LOUISVILLE, Ky. — 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 nucleoli. Early tests show that this aptamer may stop viruses, including novel coronavirus, from “hijacking” nucleoli 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 it once again.

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. 

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 secure facilities protect researchers and the public from exposure to the pathogens being investigated.