CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina hasn’t had a confirmed coronavirus case, but that hasn’t stopped researchers at the University of North Carolina from doing their part to find a way to stop its spread.
The Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC has experience with similar viruses. Dr. Ralph Baric said it has studied SARS-like viruses since 2003.
“We’re really ramping up efforts to discover how this virus grows,” added Dr. Lisa Gralinski. “Some of the leading work in the world that’s being done on highly infectious viruses and bacteria is happening right here in the Triangle.”
Duke University and North Carolina State University, like UNC, also have biosafety level 3 labs. That allows them to study lethal diseases like SARS, MERS, Zika, and now coronavirus (COVID-19).
They reverse engineer the virus inside a lab.
“We can take the known genome of the virus, build those blocks together, and put in labeling proteins so that we can visualize where the virus is appearing,” Gralinski said.
“Technological advances in the last 20 years have allowed companies and scientists to clone out and recover those antibodies and manufacture them in bulk,” Baric said.
Due to the sensitive nature of this work, labs are kept at negative pressure. Security clearance is needed to get inside.
“We put on a lot of PPE, personal protective equipment, so there is a Tyvek suit with boot covers,” Gralinski said. “I’m also wearing a different pair of shoes in that laboratory. I have two pairs of gloves on, an apron, and a respirator strapped around my waste.”
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