Dr. Jason McLellan’s Coronavirus Breakthrough

Josh Pirtle
|
Sep 17, 2020

Dr. Jason McLellan studies fungi, viruses, bacteria, and parasites throughout his medical career. He seeks to understand the structures of these proteins and establish ways to avoid illness, including vaccine research. He is affiliated with the John Ring LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease,  and has his own lab, the McLellan Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. His main interest has been researching on the many types of coronavirus, leading to a recent breakthrough in creating a vaccine for the 2019 Coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China. 

Background and Education

Dr. Jason McLellan received his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in 2003 from Wayne State University. In 2008 he received his Ph.D. in Biophysics from The John Hopkins University. He was a research fellow with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, from 2008 to 2013. From 2013 to 2018, he was an assistant professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, then went on to be an associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin. For the past five years, his team has studied coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, and focused on mapping the viruses.  

The McLellan Lab

The McLellan Lab is a piece of the Molecular Biosciences Department at the University of Texas at Austin. 

They are keen on clarifying the atomic instruments of host-pathogen cooperations, especially those including viral glycoproteins. For this exploration, they misuse the cooperative energy that exists among essential and translational science. Specifically, the assurance of structures and the improvement of apparatuses expected to respond to fundamental science questions can be converted into remedial mediations, which thus can be utilized as reagents to additionally light up organic procedures.

Coronavirus Research

Dr. McLellan and his research team both at the McLellan Lab and the Sauer Lab study coronaviruses and beta coronaviruses. Due to the high mortality rates associated with coronavirus outbreaks, specialty research teams are in high demand. There are numerous coronaviruses. Some course among individuals and cause the normal virus. Others began in creatures and bounced to people causing flare-ups like SARS and MERS.

Among known RNA viruses, coronaviruses have the largest genomes, making mapping their structure in a lab highly efficient. Dr. McLellan’s research into coronaviruses is currently zoned in on the most recent outbreak, the 2019 novel coronavirus, but they hope to find universal solutions for all coronaviruses.

The major threat of pandemics caused by coronaviruses drive this research, and are a cause for urgency in creating vaccines and treatment standards. 

Vaccine Breakthrough for Coronavirus

A 3D atomic model could lead the path toward a vaccine for the 2019 novel coronavirus, scientists at UT Austin, and the National Institutes of Health said on February 19, 2020. 

The scientists on Dr. Jason McLellan’s team mapped a piece of the coronavirus called the spike protein, which connects to and taints human cells. McLellan has been looking into these infections for over five years. At the point when his group discovered the infection causing disorder in Wuhan, China, was a coronavirus, they began chipping away at this model. He stated, “With this map, other researchers and we can then begin to perform rational engineering approaches to try and design small molecules, antibodies and vaccine antigens against the coronavirus,” when interviewed by NPR

The model of the molecular structure of the 2019-nCoV spike protein is a major breakthrough in creating a vaccine for the newest type of coronavirus. Thanks to the infrastructure of the Sauer Laboratory for Structural Biology, which allows researchers to work with computer-generated models, McLellan’s team was the first to see a major breakthrough toward mapping and creating a vaccine for the coronavirus. The cryogenic electron microscopy technology available in the lab made the work much faster, showing a wide need for cryo-EM at other research facilities. 

What his lab is eventually attempting to do is instead of making singular immunizations or mediations for each coronavirus, they’re truly attempting to make an all-inclusive coronavirus antibody that would neutralize all referred to coronaviruses just as coronaviruses that still can't seem to develop into the human populace.

Be that as it may, it is going to require significant investment to get a vaccine created and approved. Finding an immunization for the 2019 novel coronavirus, McLellan says, would take in any event 18 months to two years.

Other Research Interests

Dr. Jason McLellan’s research over the years has evolved, but focuses on the human immune system responses, and mitigating disease. He lays out his research interest as the following:

  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Drugs, Drug Discovery & Diagnostics
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Disease
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Structural Biology

In the Media

While Dr. McLellan has a long list of academic and professional accolades, his recent breakthrough has seen widespread media coverage, thanks to the current events focusing on coronaviruses. Since the announcement of his lab’s discovery, he has been featured on Caller, NPR, Drug Target Review, Gene NG News, Fox News, Statesman, and many other news and medical publications. Health care professionals are starting conversations on every social media platform surrounding the new atomic map of the coronavirus. 

Awards and Accolades

  • 2019 – Viruses Young Investigator in Virology
  • 2018 – American Crystallographic Association Etter Early Career Award
  • 2015 – Charles H. Hood Foundation Child Health Research Award
  • 2012 – Norman P. Salzman Memorial Award in Virology

H1 celebrates Dr. Jason McLellan’s previous research and breakthroughs in virology and immunology, and we stand with the rest of the medical community in celebrating this amazing breakthrough in mapping the latest coronavirus. We hope to see his team receive the support needed to develop the needed vaccines for future viruses, and continue to grow their lab into an epicenter of knowledge, combatting ailments that affect the medical world on a global scale.