Butler researcher's discovery may help others to find a cure for coronavirus

Butler University researchers are looking for a cure for coronavirus. (WTHR photo/Rich Van Wyk)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - As public health officials struggle to contain the deadly virus and save lives, researchers are looking for a cure. They’ve been working on it for year and may be one important step closer because of a discovery made by researchers at Butler University.

in a small, crowded basement laboratory, Dr. Christopher Stobart and his research assistants are targeting the protein that enables the coronavirus to reproduce.

"I am trying to throw a wrench in the works so we can block and shut down this engine that the virus uses for replication," Stobart explained.

Dr. Christopher Stobart has spent years studying coronaviruses. (WTHR photo/Rich Van Wyk)

Think of a coronavirus protein as a really complicated car engine. You find the one piece or part the engine can’t run without, then break it.

But finding that right part is difficult. The Butler University assistant professor and his students have been looking for three years.

"The proteins also have a lot of moving parts and a lot of parts and regions," Stobart said. "We don’t know what they do."

But they are getting closer. According to Stobart, the team recently identified a previously undiscovered piece of that critical protein. The discovery and the work, students said, are exciting.

"The idea of your research actually being pertinent to the everyday life of the people around you," explained Butler senior Benjamin Nick.

"I never anticipated that the same type of virus I am working on will one day be on the news," senior Mansi Pandya said.

The coronavirus that has so far killed at least 350 people in China is one of a family of coronaviruses. Researches work with a strain of the virus that does not affect humans.

Identifying the piece of protein that, if targeted, could kill the virus, is one of many steps toward finding cure.

"Then someone has to find a drug, a chemical that is going to block that protein," Stobart said. "And we have to show that drug is safe for people, meaning a possible cure for the coronavirus would likely be years away."

Stobart expects his findings to be published within six months.