UTHSC researchers studying live coronavirus

Updated: Feb. 27, 2020 at 5:14 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As health officials are working worldwide to contain cases of coronavirus, researchers right here in Memphis are also doing their part.

Right now, 47 countries report infections of the highly contagious coronavirus. The rapid spread of the virus has also raised the fears of a global pandemic as governments ramp up their emergency responses.

In a press conference Wednesday, top health officials in Memphis shared the steps already in place should the virus hit the Mid-South.

“As we think about the national response to the virus, the international response to the virus a lot of that is going to be informed by work being done right here in Memphis by UTHSC researchers,” said Dr. John McCullers, senior associate dean of Clinical Affairs and COO for the College of Medicine at UTHSC

Housed in the heart of the medical district - inside a regional bio containment laboratory is a live strain of the coronavirus directly from Wuhan, China. Researchers there are lead by Dr. Colleen Johnson, an internationally renowned scientist.

“We actually have a very strong team of researchers that study coronavirus. We’ve been working with SARS virus here in the regional bio containment laboratory for a number of years So some very interesting research coming out of that,” said Dr. McCullers.

Clinical trials for a vaccine are to start in a matter of weeks.

“We are seeing incredible speed of progress. To think that we already have a the beginnings of phase one vaccine trial plans in place just after two to three months after we knew of this virus is really an amazing accomplishment,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkled, an infectious disease specialist.

Though it could be more than a year before the vaccine is available, infectious disease specialist Dr. Stephen Threlkled calls the work of researchers remarkable. Scientists have already determined the genetic sequence of the virus, finding points of attack and points of prevention for vaccines within months of the discovery of the virus.

International travel remains the number one cause for the spread of the virus. Currently the Shelby County Health Department has not deemed screenings for the virus necessary at Memphis International Airport.

Should something change, the health department could place posters around the airport detailing symptoms of the virus and warnings about recent travel to China.

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