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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Columnist: Asubonteng Nicholas

The woman who discovered human coronavirus

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Coronavirus has been the trend since the fourth quarter of 2019 to date (as at the time of this write up). This is the first time it infected citizens of Ghana, although other dangerous strains of coronavirus have existed before in other countries.

You may be surprised about where this virus is from and who discovered it. Well, if you are curious like I am, kindly read this article to the end.

As early as 1964, June Almeida (a Scottish biologist) discovered Human coronavirus at the St. Thomas Medical School Hospital.

June Almeida was born on October 5, 1930 in Glasgow, Scotland. She lived in a tenement building with his father, who was a bus driver in the same town. During her school days, she was a stellar and had the vision to at least be a university graduate, but because of hardship, she later dropped out of school at age, 16. She did not let this be an obstacle. She had her first Job in Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where she used the microscope to help analyze tissue samples.

From there, she went to London and had a similar job at St Bartholomew?s Hospital. She met a man who later became her husband in London. Her husband is a Venezuelan artist by the name Enrique Almeida. Actually, June?s maiden name is Hart, but she adopted Almeida at marriage.

The couple then migrated to Canada and luckily for June, she had a job at Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto which involved working with an electron microscope.

According to Almeidas 2008 posthumous profile, it is easier to gain recognition in science without a university degree, while in Canada, than in Britain. And I believe that?s why they moved to Canada.

June identified a certain problem among scientists, which was, the difficulty involved in viewing viruses. So she pioneered a virology technique known as, Immune Electron Microscopy. This new technique involved mixing antibodies from either human or animal sources to prepare viruses. The antibodies will help aggregate the viruses, making them easily visible under an electron microscope.

In fact, June Almeida did a marvellous job at the Ontario Cancer Institute and earned a recognition at her time. Because of that, Professor A.P. Waterson called her back to London and recruited her so that she could continue her outstanding works at St. Thomas Medical School Hospital.

Dr David Tyrrell was at the UK?s erstwhile Common Cold Research Centre — a medical facility dedicated for common cold research ? a facility established after World War II.

Dr. David had a lot of samples from students who were suffering from a common cold. He tried as much as possible to cultivate the viruses in the lab. He succeeded in most cases, but it was very difficult for him to deal with one sample labelled ?B814? from a schoolboy in Surrey in 1960. Since he exhausted all options, he contacted June Almeida for help.

Almeida did not disappoint him. She succeeded in cultivating the virus and viewed it by using her Immune Microscopy Technique. At first, she described it as a virus which looked like an influenza virus, but not exactly the same. Dr David Tyrell was very excited and he, together with Dr. Almeida and Prof. Tony Waterson, gathered to discuss the findings. They agreed that it was a novel virus, but wondered how to call it.

After a closer look at the images of the virus, they named it based on its morphological features, specifically the protein projections on its surface that made it look like a crown.

They named it coronavirus: Corona, is a Latin word which means crown. June Almeida retired from her work as a biologist in 1985. She later became a yoga instructor. After a while, she returned to St. Thomas Medical School Hospital as an advisor.

She died in 2007 at 77, due to a heart attack. Although she is no more, her legacy still lives because researchers are still using her Immune Microscopy Technique to rapidly and accurately identified viruses.