As the number of people infected with the new coronavirus continues to climb in Qatar and neighboring countries, the Biomedical Research Center of Qatar University is accelerating work to support efforts to better understand the virus.
The center recently started several research projects related to the new virus, whose official name is SARS-CoV-2, for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The center’s projects include a detailed analysis of cases of infection with the virus inside and outside Qatar, a study of the body’s immune responses to the virus, and a study evaluating the response of the virus to some antiviral drugs and natural compounds.
“We use computer modeling and artificial intelligence for genetic sequencing of the virus and to look for inhibitors that can prevent the infection of the cell,” said Hadi Yassine, an associate professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at Qatar University who is research projects manager at the Biomedical Research Center. “This type of research enables us to predict the response of the virus to some drugs.”
As of April 14, more than 3,400 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, had been reported in Qatar, with seven deaths. The disease emerged both in Qataris returning from Europe and in migrant workers. Qatar has blocked most incoming flights, closed public areas, and locked down an industrial area where many migrant workers live and infections have been high.
Identifying Potential Covid-19 Treatments
Using simulation technologies allows researchers to study millions of compounds quickly to identify drug candidates for testing. In this type of study, the researchers make a three-dimensional structure of the virus and then choose a number of drugs that are known to have anti-viral activities and use artificial intelligence to simulate the drugs’ interaction with the virus. If researchers identify a drug that is not currently being used to treat infected people, they can first test its efficacy in the laboratory.
“We already found some promising results and expect to publish them within the next couple of weeks,” Fatiha Benslimane, a research associate at the center, said.