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Headshot of Dr. Che Colpitts in the School of Medicine

Q&A with Dr. Che Colpitts

From developing new antivirals to assessing the impact of vaccination on reproductive health, Queen's Health Sciences' faculty and students are helping us prepare for the next potential pandemic.

The following Q&A offers a glimpse into two such researchers and their work: Dr. Che Colpitts, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences; and Dr. Maria P. Velez, Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology:

Q: What is your research focus?

Dr. Colpitts: Several projects in our lab are focused on developing new antiviral countermeasures for RNA viruses with pandemic potential. RNA viruses such as coronaviruses (e.g., SARS-CoV-2) and flaviviruses (e.g., dengue virus) pose a considerable threat to human health, with few or no antivirals available. Furthermore, RNA viruses are often transmittable from animals to humans - making them difficult to predict or prepare for. While conventional antiviral development has focused on a “one bug, one drug” approach, we aim to develop broadly acting antivirals that may be effective against multiple unrelated RNA viruses, including those that may emerge in future. Our goal is to identify shared approaches that viruses use to interact with their target cells in the body to promote virus infection or cause disease.

Q: Talk about your project(s)?

Dr. Colpitts: One research area in our lab looks at the roles of sugars (glycans) that naturally coat the surfaces of our cells, and how coronaviruses use these sugars to attach to our cells as a first step in infection. We demonstrated in a recent publication that blocking virus attachment to these sugars with an ingredient found in green tea stops infection by multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, MERS-CoV, and bat coronaviruses that may emerge in future. We are now working to design antiviral drug candidates that mimic sugar structures. This is in collaboration with the lab of Dr. Chantelle Capicciotti (Queen's, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences / Chemistry / Surgery) and was supported by Rapid Response COVID-19 funding from Queen's, as well as funding from the J.P. Bickell Foundation.

A second research theme in our lab is focused on investigating whether we can non-specifically boost immune responses in the body to help cells resist viral infection. We have three projects focused on this area, supported by funding from the Banting Research Foundation and CIHR. We are also investigating how highly pathogenic viruses (e.g., SARS-CoV-2, dengue virus, Ebola virus) cause cytokine storm, a detrimental over-abundant inflammatory response during severe viral disease.

Q: How will your research help us learn from the recent pandemic and prepare us for the next one?

Dr. Colpitts: Our research will help us prepare for the next emerging virus, in that it will aid in the development of new broad-spectrum antiviral countermeasures that will protect not only against existing dangerous RNA viruses, but also those that may emerge in future.

Q: Who are your partners?

Dr. Colpitts: Our key collaborators at Queen's are Dr. Capicciotti, Dr. Charles Graham (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), Dr. Katrina Gee (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), and Dr. Andrew Evans (Chemistry). Outside of Queen's, Dr. Arinjay Banerjee (Vaccine and infectious Disease Organization, University of Saskatchewan) has been an important partner in our work.