MERS research underway at IU

MERS research underway at IU
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Researchers at Indiana University are trying to solve some of the basic medical mysteries of MERS.

Professor David Giedroc, a bio-chemist, is leading a team of graduate students. They are trying to understand the chemistry of MERS, precisely how the virus infects healthy human cells and multiplies.

"If you can block the ability of the virus to bind to the cell," Giedroc explained, "and protect it from entering the cell to begin with that is a potential anti-viral agent."

In other words, they're looking for a chemical compound capable of killing the viral cells and saving lives.

"I am very optimistic about this one." Giedroc said.

Researchers discovered MERS two years ago in the Arabian peninsula. It belongs to a so-called corona family of viruses. They suspect it originated in camels, though how the virus jumped to humans is a mystery. While doctors say it is transmitted by close person-to-person contact, "The ability of the virus to persist in the community is actually pretty low at the moment."

Although little is known about MERS, Giedroc said researchers are already familiar with similar viruses. Scientists around the world are making progress and beginning to see results.

"There are new molecules being discovered now which have been shown to naturalize the virus," he said.

But so far, there is no cure. Research is painstaking and slow. It will likely be years before what is learned in laboratories can be used to prevent MERS infections or treat its victims.