Troy lecturer partners with ONY Biotech on life-saving COVID-19 research

Updated: May. 4, 2020 at 6:14 AM CDT
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TROY, Ala. (WSFA) - A lecturer at Troy University is working with a major biotechnology company to research ways to combat the effects of COVID-19 on patients’ lungs.

ONY Biotech is the manufacturer of Infasurf® (calfactant) and a leader in the creation of non-invasive neonatal therapies for the treatment of Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) in premature babies.

Dr. Suzanne Lukjan, a Lecturer in the Chemistry and Physics Department at Troy University, is now working with ONY Biotech in researching how surfactant can be used as a therapeutic treatment to help COVID-19 patients before their lungs succumb to the virus.

The pulmonary surfactant therapy is geared toward patients suffering from COVID-19-related acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a type of respiratory failure.

Surfactant contributes to the lungs’ elasticity, preventing their collapse.

“This is not a cure, but it’s therapeutic and could potentially buy some time so the patient’s lungs don’t give out before they are able to recover,” Lukjan said in a statement.

The coronavirus has been proven to be infecting the cells in the lungs that we need to make surfactant in order to breathe.

“The virus can damage your lungs. Any time your lungs are damaged, the cells that produce surfactant can also be damaged and cause surfactant production to stop. You can’t breathe without surfactant lining the inside of the alveoli in the lungs. Your lungs will collapse,” Lukjan said in a statement.

For 13 years Lukjan has been researching surfactant and now the COVID-19 pandemic has her and ONY Biotech focusing their efforts toward the coronavirus’ unique attributes.

“I was just kind of looking at how I can help and I know surfactants,” Lukjan said. “I don’t know viruses well, it’s not my expertise, but surfactant is, so this is just my way of giving back and trying to help in a way that I can.”

Lukjan and ONY Biotech are currently working on writing a grant for this project and Lukjan said she hopes the process will be fast-tracked due to the coronavirus’ continued spread.

“The virus isn’t going away anytime soon, and it takes a while to make a vaccine,” she said. “This would be something in addition to, not taking place of a vaccine. If we could fast track this and go through clinical trials quickly, that would be great. Sooner would be better,” Lukjan said.

Lukjan said the partnership and continued research is just one example of the work being done by scientists at Troy and throughout the world.

“I want everyone to realize that science is important and can help save lives,” Lukjan said in a statement. “All of the science departments at Troy University are doing great things. The Chemistry and Physics Department, the Biology Department, and the rest are all doing big things right now.”

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