Downing Fellows Combat Coronavirus

Downing Fellows are working to combat coronavirus by providing front-line medical care and advancing research into the virus and clinical trials. 

Whilst the country was preparing for lockdown, Dr Tim Burton (Downing 1994), Oon Fellow in Pharmacology at Downing and Consultant Physician & Clinical Director of Acute Medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital was leading efforts to free up 400 beds in preparation for a huge surge in patients with coronavirus.  “We were prepared for the worse-case scenario which luckily didn’t happen.  At its peak, we had 130 patients with coronavirus which was well below what we expected, so we have been able to take critically ill patients into intensive care here from other hospitals.  It’s been so different to normal times, patient numbers in A & E have halved. We’re now planning for what might happen next and when planned surgical procedures can begin again.”  Working on the front line with the risks to colleagues and for his family is inevitably stressful, and Tim says that his cycle commute and daily run is helping.   

Working nearby, is Senior Tutor and Darley Fellow, Dr Guy Williams (Downing 1992) who is Assistant Director of Research at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre which has been repurposed for imaging of patients with coronavirus.  “We are data mining imaging records from patients at Addenbrooke’s and then ensuring it reaches the University researchers for analysis through the newly formed Covid-19 research imaging group.  I’m also keeping in touch with staff and students who remain in College to ensure their safety and managing our new way of online Supervisions with Fellows.”

Professor David Wales FRS, Downing Fellow in Chemistry and Professor of Chemical Physics, uses theory and computer simulation to model flu virus to guide development of new antiviral drugs. He says: “I’m also looking at models of the outer shell of the flu virus to understand key steps in the infection process, in the hope of exposing ‘chinks in its armour’ that normally make the virus difficult to target.” When he’s not working from home, he’s thinking about science while cycling and running. 

Dr Harriet Groom, Bye-Fellow in Natural Sciences and Honorary Visiting Fellow in the Department of Medicine, is contributing her expertise in viruses to fighting coronavirus and to clinical trials. “I am working on a project with colleagues in the Department of Medicine to investigate how the shape of the viral genome influences success of infection. I am also providing some advice to a local biotech on their COVID-19 clinical trial application.”  Harriet is also switching all her teaching online for this term and working from home with two small children – which is no small feat!

Published 29 April 2020.