By Megan Hickey


CHICAGO (CBS) – Scientists at Northwestern University are on the front line, trying to find a vaccine and new treatment for the latest form of the coronavirus.

At a lab in Streeterville, an international team of experts is working against the clock to stop the spread of the virus, CBS 2’s Megan Hickey reports.

This form of coronavirus is new. The common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Chicago has only the second confirmed case of the virus in the United States.

The first goal? Mapping the structure of the virus, growing liters and liters of bacteria in the lab.

They’re basically starting from scratch.

“Every stage takes time and it takes people to do the actual work,” said Karla Satchell, with the Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases.

Northwestern’s Satchell leads an international team of about 40 scientists that just got the memo to drop what they’re doing and work on the virus.

“In a lot of ways we see that as out mandate at the center,” said Satchell.

The team — and a robot upstairs– was hard at work in the lab today.

Once the mapping is done, they’ll start working on identifying drugs that could disable the virus once a patient has already contracted it.

Some of those drugs might already exist. Others might have to be developed.

The ultimate goal is to develop a preventative vaccine.

Satchell says it could take months.

“The ramp up time from zero to compound is unfortunately in the months scale, which is still better than it used to be,” she said.

Satchell says it will take about two weeks to sequence the DNA. The proteins found in this virus are very close to the ones in found in the SARS outbreak from the early 2000s.

Megan Hickey