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Higgins: National Science Foundation awards to support local COVID-19 research at Hauptman-Woodward

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Thu, May 7th 2020 07:35 am

Nearly $600,000 in grants will fund studies into molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19

Congressman Brian Higgins on Wednesday announced the award of $600,000 in National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) for multiple research projects into the molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.

NSF awarded $200,000 to Dr. Sarah Bowmen, director of the Crystallization Center at HWI, to extend the center’s structural biology services for researchers working to accelerate knowledge production about coronavirus proteins. Structural biology methods help researchers to understand fundamental principles at the base of how biomolecules work by enabling visualization of those molecules at a high level of detail. These methods are critical in providing details about how the virus enters human cells and how viral proteins interact with human proteins.

One difficult step, however, is obtaining conditions to allow the samples to be studied, which the Crystallization Center can provide. The project will seek to develop new experimental pipelines to accelerate response time in the face of the current and future pandemics.

NSF also awarded $200,000 for a collaborative effort led by Dr. Diana Monteiro from HWI and Dr. Thomas Grant from the Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

Researchers in this study will use their rapid analyses to understand how proteins critical to SARS-CoV-2 viral replication function within cells of infected individuals, and how these proteins interact with potential therapeutic drug compounds.

Students from under-represented groups will also participate in this activity through the BioXFEL Scholars program to help with data analysis. Data from these studies will be rapidly disseminated through publicly available repositories so that other researchers can leverage the experimental outcomes in their own studies.

The project is complementary to HWI’s Crystallization Center and its new Cryo-Electron Microscopy Center, which is currently under construction. Study findings will also be published in peer-reviewed journals and shared at scientific meetings.

NSF awarded a third grant in the amount of $199,816 to Dr. Miranda Lynch, a staff scientist at HWI, to develop machine learning-based computational tools for the prediction of protein-to-protein interactions involving SARS-CoV-2 and proteins in human bodies. In the early stages of a pathogenic threat, information on how viruses interact with bodies is limited. Work developed in Lynch’s proposal seeks to make use of rapidly acquired protein three-dimensional structural information to aid in understanding the ways in which the viral proteins interact with those in a human. The overarching goal is to utilize advanced computational methods to build knowledge on how the virus enters human cells and how the virus could react to different potential drugs.

“Our country should have been prepared for this pandemic, but we weren’t and are feverishly trying to catch up to save lives and rebuild our communities. The funding provided to researchers at Hauptman-Woodward from the National Science Foundation not only assist local COVID-19 research efforts, but also research of the current pandemic nationwide. We are proud to have Western New York scientists leading the charge in studying the biology of the virus causing this global outbreak,” Higgins said.

“The coronavirus pandemic has elicited a remarkable response from the global scientific community, and we’re proud to be playing an active role here in Buffalo,” said Dr. Edward Snell, CEO of Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. “Through collaboration and existing research capabilities, we can hopefully help unlock new information and understanding. If successful, these methods can not only be applied to this pandemic, but prepare us to address future public health crises as well.”

Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute’s work improves human health by studying the causes of diseases, as well as potential therapies, at their basic molecular level. HWI is a founding member of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and resides in a state-of-the-art research facility at 700 Ellicott St. For more information, visit hwi.buffalo.edu.

These awards are provided by the NSF’s division of biological infrastructure (DBI) through its rapid response research (RAPID) using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress on March 27.

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