UofL breakthrough technology shows promise fighting novel coronavirus


    University of Louisville researchers have developed a technology that is believed to block the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 from infecting human cells.

    The technology is based on a piece of synthetic DNA – an “aptamer” –  which targets and binds with a human protein called nucleolin. Early tests show that this aptamer may stop viruses, including novel coronavirus, from “hijacking” nucleolin to replicate inside the body.  

    UofL is seeking to fast-track development, including application to the Food and Drug Administration for approval to start treating patients seriously affected with COVID-19.  

    The aptamer was discovered by UofL’s Paula Bates, John Trent and Don Miller, who have applied it in a variety of ways, most notably as a potential therapeutic drug against multiple types of cancer. With the current global pandemic of coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes, Bates partnered with fellow researcher Kenneth Palmer to apply the technology once again

    “Like many scientists, as soon as I heard about the new coronavirus, I wanted to help and started to think about how my area of research might intersect with coronavirus research efforts,” said Bates, a professor of medicine. “I am fortunate to be at UofL, which is one of the few places in the country where we have the facilities to do experiments using the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

    Palmer, director of UofL’s Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CPM), conducted proof-of-concept experiments showing the aptamer was effective against the virus at doses previous research has shown to be safe in patients. Palmer also is working on another potential COVID-19 treatment, Q-Griffithsin, developed at UofL in partnership with the National Cancer Institute and the University of Pittsburgh. 

    The CPM houses UofL’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, one of only 12 regional and two national biocontainment labs in the United States and the only one in Kentucky. Established with support from the NIH to conduct research with infectious agents, the lab includes Biosafety Level 3 facilities built to the most exacting federal safety and security standards. The stringently secure facilities protect researchers and the public from exposure to the pathogens being investigated. 

    UofL is providing financial support for COVID-19 research, but additional funds are needed to continue the work over time. Donations specifically for the research can be made at give.louisville.edu.


    Jill Scoggins is Director of Communications at UofL's Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. She has been at UofL since 2010.