CHESS Facility

People gathered around the CHESS Lab

The Cornell High Energy Synchotron Source (CHESS) will restart some of its operations in early June to investigate potential COVID-19 treatments as the outbreak continues to make its way across the United States. 

Richard Cerione will be leading the research, which will focus on cancer-fighting enzyme blockers, which are thought to be potential SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors and would be beneficial in the fight against coronavirus, according to an articles in the Cornell Chronicle. 

“These enzymes are necessary for the altered metabolism of cancer cells, which the tumor cells critically need much, much more than normal cells,” Cerione said. “We have been developing inhibitors that block these enzymes as anti-cancer drugs. It turns out viruses need the same enzymes for their infection, replication and transmission.”

CHESS received permission from the school to restart the synchotron facility on May 1 after several weeks of closure, beginning when the school shut its campus in mid-March in reaction to the outbreak. The specific part of the facility that will be used in the COVID-19 research will be the Cornell Electron Storage Ring (CESR), which must be "carefully restarted in order to conduct the X-ray crystallography experiment." 

The restart will be slower than a typical one, as the teams of specialists will be smaller and working in shifts to enable social distancing while the research takes place. Importantly, Cerione said there will not be live or infectious samples of COVID-19 used in the research. 

“We need better structural pictures for our enzyme-drug complexes so as to design more potent drug candidates in anticipation of the next wave of viral infections,” Cerione said. “We are betting that, at room temperature, we will be able to obtain crystal structures that much better distinguish between our drug samples and will help us, and others, do better rational drug design in the future.”

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