Back in 2016, when Zika virus first began to cause infections in the Americas, University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers pulled together a coalition of scientists to study the virus and openly share their data for others.

Two weeks ago, those researchers — David O’Connor, professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Thomas Friedrich, professor in the UW School of Veterinary Medicine  — used the 2016 playbook to start planning efforts to study the novel coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019.

The virus, which causes flu-like symptoms and respiratory illness, has sickened more than 43,000 people in China and across several nations, according to health officials. At least 1,018 people have died.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka

Within the next few weeks, Friedrich, O’Connor, and their interdisciplinary partners hope to begin studies to better understand the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV.

“We are working together to develop a plan to build out nonhuman primate models to test medical countermeasures such as vaccines and therapeutics,” says O’Connor. “We want to make sure we are recapitulating the kind of clinical signs (of virus infection) that happen in people.”

The researchers are interested in understanding how much of the virus makes its way into the body and in bodily fluids; where in the lungs the virus infects; and in creating opportunities to test new vaccines and antivirals. They also hope to look at how the immune system responds and whether there are indicators that can help clinicians distinguish who might be at risk for developing severe disease.

At the Influenza Research Institute (IRI) in Madison, Professor of Pathobiological Sciences Yoshihiro Kawaoka is also preparing to study 2019-nCoV.

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