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New funding boosts chemistry professor’s work to slow spread of viruses

Professor Katherine McReynolds (back row, center), shown with students who are part of her research team, has received funding to continue her studies into therapeutic agents that could block transmission of dangerous infections. (Photo courtesy of Katherine McReynolds)

A Sacramento State chemistry professor has received funding to continue critical research that could slow the spread of potentially deadly viruses that can trigger pandemics.

The National Institutes of Health awarded Professor Katherine McReynolds $426,000 to continue her studies into therapeutic agents capable of blocking transmission of infections, including the coronavirus and HIV.

McReynolds and student researchers are studying substances that could be developed into drugs that curb transmission of diseases including COVID-19 and AIDS. The agents also might be used as a front-line attack against future pathogens capable of causing pandemics.

“Our hope is that we will be able to design compounds that will be cross-reactive,” or able to fight multiple viruses, McReynolds said. “Currently, we don’t have an arsenal of compounds capable of doing that.”

The sugarcoated polymers she and her students synthesize in their lab at Sac State could ultimately be incorporated into products such as nasal and throat sprays that, if used shortly after symptoms arise, could block the coronavirus from infecting cells and prevent serious illness. Similarly, the substances could be integrated into a gel or condom to prevent the spread of HIV.

“The best scenario would be something that you could pull off of the shelf that works against a wide variety of viruses,” McReynolds said. “That is the ultimate goal.”

While most members of the Sac State community worked, taught, and studied from home beginning in March 2020, McReynolds received administrative permission to continue her lab research, which NIH funded for the past four years. She received clearance to bring students back in August. The team follows strict health and safety protocols, she said.

The renewed federal funding will allow McReynolds and her students to continue their studies for four more years.

Beyond the satisfaction of participating in studies that have the potential to make a difference, the lab work helps students build their resumes for graduate school and prepare for future jobs as researchers.

“We are working on finding agents that can fight a pandemic,” McReynolds said. “The training opportunity is enormous.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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