Molecular approaches to detect and mitigate COVID-19

Research support to capture and disable coronavirus spikes

Research support to capture and disable coronavirus spikes

Ronit Freeman, an associate professor of applied physical sciences and biomedical engineering in the College of Arts & Sciences, received a total of $275,000 through the Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s COVID-19 Initiative: Detecting and Mitigating Epidemics for her work with two interdisciplinary teams.

Freeman and her co-investigators are primarily focused on the crown of spikes decorating the virus as they are the key components that unlock viral entry to host cells. How coronaviruses enter cells is an important determinant of viral infectivity and a major target for host immune surveillance and human intervention strategies. The team will employ computational models of different spike structures along the infection pathway and develop “molecular cages” that will effectively lock the spike conformations in place. These new capture agents have the potential to block virus entry and effectively stop it at the gate. 

“There is severe urgency for accurate point-of-care detection of COVID-19,” said Freeman. Their technology will utilize peptide and nucleic acid sequences able to trap the viral spikes and generate a unique surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) signal. Their goal is to have a working COVID-19 handheld sensor in a few months.


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