We have another interesting WiSE Wednesday this week to share with you! This week we are talking about someone who was the first person to see a coronavirus, June Almeida.
Born in Scotland in 1930, June Almeida left school at the young age of 16. She wanted to continue her education, but decided due to financial strains to drop out and begin working in a laboratory. She began working as a laboratory technician at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, working with microscopes. She then went to work in London at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. In 1954, she married and moved to Canada with her husband and daughter. June Almeida would become an electron microscopy technician in Ontario, Canada at the Ontario Cancer Institute. She published articles on her work with other people during her time there.
In 1964, June Almeida received her Doctor of Science ( Sc.D.) based on her work at Ontario Cancer Center and St. Thomas Hospital in London. She was recruited to work in the lab of Tony Waterson while in Canada, who was based in London. So she moved back to London and while there, Dr. Almeida would work with a number of viruses. She collaborated with Dr. David Tyrell who studied the common cold when she discovered the coronavirus.
The case of the first coronavirus happened when she was sent a sample from Dr. Tyrell. He sent Dr. Almeida a sample, known as B814 that was known as a respiratory virus, but he had trouble growing the virus in organ cultures in cells, so he turned to June Almeida, to be able to identify the virus in the electron microscope. Dr. Almeida observed this sample looked similar but different than influenza viruses. She also noted this virus from sample B814 looked similar to something she had already seen in 2 other cases. She had tried to publish a paper on these different looking viruses, but it was rejected due to poor image quality, and they had appeared to the reviewers as influenza viruses.
When the observation of this virus’s shape was something unique to the other viruses, Dr. Tyrell, Dr. Waterson, and Dr. Almeida named these types of viruses coronaviruses (“Corona” in latin is Halo and the virus particles looked to have haloes around them). Her contributions to coronavirus have been applied to identifying COVID-19.
Dr. June Almeida has given so many scientific contributions to the world. She was known to be very skillful with an electron microscope, and she helped develop techniques to better identify and visualize certain viruses. Dr. June Almeida was the first person to identify coronavirus in her lab in 1964 at St. Thomas Hospital in London. In 1967, her and her team were the first to see the rubella virus using electron microscopy. In 1970, Dr. Almeida trained Albert Kapikian in immune electron microscopy (IEM). Dr. Kapikian, identified the first norovirus, using Dr. Almeida’s same techniques on a 6 month visit in the United Kingdom from NIH in the U.S.
To learn more about Dr. June Almeida’s life and scientific contributions, please visit these sites:
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