Even before the first case of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, turned up in Indiana last week, a Purdue team was trying to thwart the disease. Biology professor Andy Mesecar has been studying MERS for about a year. That’s on top of a decade trying to kill a fatal disease which caused a worldwide panic a decade ago.
“We’re funded by the National Institutes of Health to work on the SARS virus and they contacted us and said we welcome you to work on the Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus," he says. "So that was sort of our segue – we need to start working on this in case something significant would happen around the globe.”
Mesecar says what he’s trying to do is deprive the virus of its ability to eat, so it won’t have the energy necessary to replicate and cause havoc in human immune systems.
“If you have to eat your dinner to survive every day, what we do is we make a plug for your mouth that basically prevents you from eating,” Mesecar says.
Mesecar says he’s been contacted by researchers as far away as Jordan – where some of the first cases of the disease surfaced – asking for his help. He’s offered up his lab to them but estimates it’ll still be years before any drugs hit the market that are approved to treat MERS.