Researchers at the University of Wisconsin recently began their study on the novel Coronavirus, which started in Wuhan, China in December last year. 

David O’Connor, Thomas Friedrich and Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who teach in the School of Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine and Pathobiological Sciences respectively, are leading the project, according to a release from UW News.

O’Connor and Friedrich have a unique position going into the project due to their experience with the Zika virus — they led the Zika research team at UW back in 2016, according to a UW News release from then. 

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According to the coronavirus release, O’Connor and Friedrich’s experience will prove a useful background, as it provides a sort of “playbook” to get the researchers started in the right direction. 

Graduate students Gage Moreno and Katarina Braun both work on the new project. Braun is a graduate student in Friedrich’s lab in the Department of Pathobiological Sciences. Moreno, who works in O’Connor’s lab in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, discussed why this research at UW is so important. 

“We were one of the first groups willing to share our data in real time … which allowed others in the scientific community to learn from our experiments without overlapping efforts,” Moreno said. “We intend to do the same with this emerging coronavirus.”  

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Professor Kawaoka joined the previously assembled team from the Influenza Research Institute in Madison, along with other researchers who have come together to discover what the 2019 coronavirus really is and what its implications are, according to the release. 

Kawaoka plans to address how transmittable the natural virus is by studying its travel through animal models, the release said. 

“We hope to establish a translational non-human primate model that can be used to facilitate the testing of clinical countermeasures such as vaccines, diagnostic tools and therapeutic interventions to expedite and facilitate this process,” Moreno said. 

And though vaccines take around five to six years before they are ready for public use, Moreno said the process could be expedited in the case of emerging pathogens like the Coronavirus. 

The process to develop a vaccine is a long one, but with the strong research team assembled at UW, along with the addition of about 50 people from different universities and federal institutions across the country, Moreno said the prioritization of real-time data sharing could help to get the information out and interpreted faster. 

As for who needs to worry about contracting the Coronavirus, Braun says most of the information remains largely unknown, but there is some preliminary evidence the research group hopes to capitalize on. 

There is preliminary evidence that groups at most risk of severe disease are the elderly as well as those with preexisting comorbidities,” Braun said. 

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But students at UW don’t need to be concerned about the new virus yet, since it is still less dangerous than the 2002 to 2003 SARS epidemic, Braun said. 

Braun said the geographic distance between UW and Wuhan where the virus is the most dangerous means students don’t need to be concerned.

“For comparison, the case fatality rate for the 2002 to 2003 SARS epidemic was around 10%, whereas current case fatality estimates for SARS-CoV-2 are much lower — 2.5%,” Braun said. “Importantly, the vast majority of cases are in Mainland China and none of the cases identified in the United States have been fatal.”