Thursday, Oct 06, 2022
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Why Does Science Come Last?

History shows us that there is no alternative to research in the battle against pandemics

Why Does Science Come Last? Why Does Science Come Last?

The term coronavirus entered the scientific literature with little fanfare in 1968, when a short news item appeared in the journal Nature. A letter had been received from a group of virologists, suggesting the name for a recently discovered class of viruses causing mild human respiratory infections. A couple of years earlier, a new group of viruses had been identified in the nasal secretions of persons suffering from the symptoms associated with common colds. David Tyrrell at Britain’s Common Cold Research Unit in Salisbury and Dorothy Hamre at the University of Chicago had independently managed to grow the new virus in the laboratory. The strain 229E, isolated by Hamre in 1966, yielded the now-famous image, visualised under the electron microscope by Tyrrell and June Almeida in 1967. In cross-section, the approximately circular image revealed a spiky exterior with uniform projections, a corona or halo, from which the virus derived its name. The new virus seemed to be the cause of a significant number of common colds, which until then had been thought to be almost entirely caused by a different class of viruses, the rhinoviruses.

A relatively benign, new infectious agent did not really attract a great deal of attention in the world of biomedical research. Over 35 years were to pass before the coronavirus bared its fangs. In late 2002, reports of a new and life-threatening respiratory infection emerged from Guangdong province of China. At the end of February 2003, a hospital in Hanoi requested help from the WHO to study the case of a patient with an unusual, influenza-like infection. Dr Carlo Urbani, a specialist in infectious diseases, arrived in Hanoi. He quickly realised a new and virulent infection was emerging and set in motion the appropriate public health response. Three weeks later, on March 29, 2003, Dr Urbani died in Bangkok, of the infection contracted in Hanoi. Five healthcare workers died shortly thereafter. By the time the spread of infection was halted, 774 people had died out of a total of 8,098 infected persons. (https://www.cdc.gov/sars/about/fs-sars.html).

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