Today, everyone is familiar with the word coronavirus. It is said that after the Second World War, the current pandemic due to the COVID-19 is what has brought even the most powerful nations to their knees. The novel-coronavirus is a sub-type of a coronavirus first discovered in 1964. And the credit for discovering the first coronavirus goes to Dr June Almeida from Scotland. She discovered the virus in 1964 in her laboratory in St Thomas’s Hospital in London.

Key Takeaways:

  • Dr June Almeida from Scotland discovered the first coronavirus in 1964 in her laboratory at the St Thomas’s Hospital in London. 
  • Born in 1930 in Scotland, she was a pioneer of immuno-electron microscopy. She left her education at an early age of 16.
  • With only a little knowledge about science,  she went on to become a laboratory technician in histopathology at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
  • After furthering her career in London, she developed her outstanding skills with an electron microscope at the Ontario Cancer Institute.
  • With her exceptional skills, she introduced a method that better-visualized viruses by using antibodies to aggregate them.

How The First Human Coronavirus Was Discovered

Dr June married Enriques Almeida in 1954 and a few years later, the couple, along with their young daughter, moved to Toronto in Canada. It is said that  it was at the Ontario Cancer Institute that Dr Almeida developed her outstanding skills with an electron microscope. Here, she discovered a method that helped in better visualizing viruses by using antibodies to aggregate them.

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After this, she returned to work at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in London. This is the same hospital that treated Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

At that time, Dr David Tyrrell was running research at the common cold unit in Salisbury in Wiltshire. According to a medical writer George Winter, “Dr Tyrrell had been studying nasal washings from volunteers and his team had found that they were able to grow quite a few common cold-associated viruses but not all of them. One sample in particular, which became known as B814, was from the nasal washings of a pupil at a boarding school in Surrey in 1960,” BBC reported.

Here comes the role of Dr June. Dr Tyrelll tried growing the remaining common cold associated viruses but failed. He found that volunteer studies demonstrated its growth in organ cultures and hence thought that what he has been trying to do can be achieved with the help of an electron microscope. What was better than approaching Dr June for this, who grew to be a pioneer of immune-electron microscopy.

After examining the specimens sent to her, Dr June described it as like influenza viruses, but not exactly the same. Her discovery was later known as the first human coronavirus. It is said that Dr June had previously seen such structures when she was examining mouse hepatitis and infectious bronchitis of chickens. These pictures captured by Dr June were published in the Journal of General Virology two years later. She died in 2007. She was 77.

Picture Credit- BBC

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