Current coronavirus won't be the last, researcher says

Feb 24, 2020

The deadly new coronavirus that is sweeping across the world isn't the first and won't be the last deadly virus to surface. That is from a local researcher who specializes in coronaviruses.

Qiu-Xing Jiang is director of the Cryo-EM Center at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Center, a recent addition to the medical researchers on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. He has spent years studying coronaviruses, joining the rapidly growing ranks of researchers trying to stop COVID-19, which is now spreading out from its apparent epicenter in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Northern Italy has been suddenly hit with a large number of cases of the disease.

Jiang said the spread may be linked to bats.

"Fire, flooding. This can only drive the bat out of its natural habitat such that the viruses which co-exist with the bats in their natural habitat can now be spread out from bat to other animals and eventually to humans," Jiang said.

The doctor said there will be more coronaviruses in the future.

"It turned out that a lot of the serious diseases we have seen are caused by RNA viruses," he said. "The famous numbers are Zika viruses, influenza, Hepatitis B and C viruses, SARS, MERS."

Jiang said a major difference is that scientists like him better understand these viruses than when SARS hit two decades ago or when MERS hit a decade ago. He said it is also why scientists are better understanding the flu virus and heading toward a new kind of vaccine, targeted at the part of the virus that stays the same as the virus mutates.

"New viruses are going to have different features," he said. "We hope that some of the common features between generations are preserved such that in certain cases the flu vaccine can be used and can then bind to the virus and then prevent the viruses from infecting human cells."