Cornell Synchrotron being used to help develop possible drug candidates to fight COVID-19

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ITHACA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) The Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) has partially restarted operations to conduct research related to treatment of COVID-19.

For decades CHESS has been instrumental for research in a wide variety of fields, including materials science, biology, and physics.

It’s a circular particle accelerator about five stories underground, over a half mile in circumference. It produces synchrotron radiation in the form of high-intensity, high-energy X-rays.

On May 1, Cornell granted CHESS permission to restart the synchrotron after the facility was shut down quickly in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Cornell Electron Storage Ring (CESR) must be carefully restarted in order to conduct the X-ray crystallography experiment.

“It’s like trying to turn the Titanic away from the iceberg,” says Rick Cerione, Cornell University Professor of Chemistry, Chemical Biology and Molecular Medicine.

Cerione and his team had been using CHESS to focus on cancer-fighting enzyme blockers, which have potential as SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The simple idea would be is that the same strategies that we’re using against cancer could be very viable against these infections,” Cerione tells NewsChannel 9.

There are no live COVID-19 viruses being used but something that looks and acts just like it, without being transmittable.

Cerione says this new method, using the snychrotron with current drug candidates, will allow them to distinguish a good drug from a bad drug and what makes them potent. He says that could also lead to even more findings.

“How can we make them even better, because the worry is, concern is that there’s going to be another wave coming, there may be a new type of virus coming so we really want to be always trying to get better drugs ahead of time,” he explains.

Cerione says as much as he’d like to give a ballpark of when they may have something, it’s hard to do, but offers this, “We have people working literally around the clock, so I’m hoping maybe this time next year, we’ll be in a helluva lot better shape than we are now.”

He also says the results his team can achieve will help scientists prepare for infectious diseases experts think may be just over the horizon.

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