UW-Madison researchers to study new coronavirus

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- There is still much we don’t know about the new coronavirus but researchers at UW-Madison are hoping to change that.

David O’Connor, professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Thomas Friedrich, professor in the UW School of Veterinary Medicine will be leading research efforts to understand the novel coronavirus. Both studied the ZIKA virus back in 2016 and will use what they learned then to help develop a plan for this outbreak.

The research team is made up of professors, doctors, scientists, and students. "We want to figure out how disease is occurring in China and we want to use that information to try to test different treatments or vaccines to try to prevent it," said O’Connor.

A large group of multi-disciplinary experts will experiment with animal models to help inform the response to the coronavirus. The team is in the process of getting those experiments funded and will begin in the coming weeks.

UW-grad student Gage Moreno is also part of the more than 50 person team. He says he’s looking forward to learning what they uncover. "I think it’s really exciting to be a part of such a big group of people who are also so driven to answer all these questions about the unknown and know more about the virus," said Moreno. The goal is to help doctors also working to understand the virus and to ease public concern.

There are many forms of coronavirus, “This is one that we have not seen before but it is so similar to the SARS coronavirus that caused an outbreak in 2003,” said O’Connor. He says this is good news because it gives them a foundation for understanding the new coronavirus. “A lot of scientists know what sort of cells the virus infects and how it infects those cells,” said O’Connor.

One of the unique things about this project is they plan to share their findings with the public in real time. This will help everyone better understand the virus and hopefully get scientists closer to developing a vaccine.