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10 Feb 2020

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Research

Fudan researchers strive to find cures for the coronavirus

By Yan Chengyi

A novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, has been affecting the lives of everyone in China since last December. On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization officially declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, triggering coordinated global action to prevent the spread of the virus.

Epidemiological investigation suggested that the origin of the outbreak is associated with a seafood market in Wuhan. The city has since become the hardest hit area by the virus in the country. By Feb. 8, over 34,600 cases have been confirmed since the first patient was hospitalized on Dec. 12, 2019. This outbreak reveals the ongoing capacity of viral spill-over from animals to cause severe disease in humans.

For now, there is no effective antiviral treatment or vaccine, as doctors on the frontline work with continuous and unflagging efforts to relieve symptoms like fever, pneumonia and bronchitis. 

Infectious disease specialists in labs, however, have already commenced research on the prevention and treatment of 2019-nCoV, including researchers at Fudan University, who have wasted no time since the outbreak.

On Jan. 22, experts and researchers from Fudan University and its affiliated hospitals and institutes held a symposium on the coronavirus, mapping plans for disease control. Yuan Zhenghong, the leading expert of disease control at Fudan, briefed on the virus and announced that emergency projects would be put into place immediately. 

Dr. Zhu Chouwen (on the right) ready to set out


Medics from Huashan Hospital


So far, we’ve achieved some encouraging results. 

Professor Zhang Yongzhen’s team performed metagenomic RNA sequencing on a sample of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from a 41-year-old coronavirus patient from Wuhan. The patient, who worked at a local indoor seafood market, experienced a severe respiratory syndrome and was admitted and hospitalized in Wuhan Central Hospital on December 26, 2019, 6 days after he fell ill. 

They identified a novel virus whose genome shared 89.1% nucleotide similarity with a group of SARS-like (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronaviruses previously sampled from bats in China. The findings were later independently corroborated by further investigations in patients and published in Nature on Feb. 3.


Professor Ying Tianlei’s team discovered that CR3022, a SARS-CoV-specific human monoclonal antibody could bind potently with 2019-nCoV RBD (receptor binding domain). The epitope of CR3022 does not overlap with the ACE2 binding site within 2019-nCoV RBD. Thus researchers believe that it has the potential to be developed as candidate therapeutics, alone or in combination with other neutralizing antibodies, for preventing and treating 2019-nCoV infections. 


In addition, a new P3 laboratory was recently approved at Fudan University. P3 laboratories are confinement facilities subjected to BSL-3 levels (biosafety), which enables the isolation and manipulation of dangerous biological materials that may cause potentially lethal disease through inhalation and contaminate the environment. The lab will soon become another robust platform for conducting experiments on animal infection, virus cultivation and isolation related to 2019-nCoV.


As the disease spreads, anxiety and panic is another threat to public well-being and social stability.

A toxic amount of misinformation has emerged since the breakout of virus. Therefore, 12 academicians, including Tanɡ Zhaoyou, Wen Yumei, etc., have stood out to appeal for the public awareness of staying calm to better guard themselves against virus and seek early treatment when infected. 

Professor Zhang Wenhong, head of the Center of Infectious Diseases of Huashan Hospital, Fudan University, introduced plans for disease control in Shanghai and gave citizens advice for prevention and intervention. Other well-known experts have also made their contributions by keeping people informed of the latest development and breaking up rumors of the virus.

Huashan Hospital

Zhongshan Hospital

Chancellor of University Council Jiao Yang said that researchers should take the initiative and expedite their work, and President Xu Ningsheng stressed the importance of solution-oriented research in this fight against the virus. The university has also raised fund to ensure the prompt launch of the research. With efforts of our researchers and assistance from the public, the cure is on the horizon.



Editor: Deng Jianguo, Wang Mengqi, Li Yijie


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