Her explanation for the discovery, made 50 years ago, was initially rejected.
A Scottish woman named June Almeida (née Hart), discovered the first human coronavirus in 1964 after dropping out of school at only 16 years old and pursuing a lengthy career as a virologist in the United Kingdom and Canada.
Almeida, who was born in Glasgow in 1930, landed her first job as a laboratory technician at the Royal Infirmary in that city. She became a pioneer in the field of virus imaging and her work has contributed to current research into the new coronavirus.
COVID-19 is a new germ, but it’s a coronavirus of the type which was first identified by Almeida more than fifty years ago at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, right where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to be treated for this disease.
It was in the British capital that the female scientist met and married the Venezuelan artist Enriques Almeida, with whom she had a daughter and moved to Toronto (Canada) to work at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.
There, she excelled at operating the electron microscope and developed an antibody aggregation method for getting clearer images of viruses.
As her work became known in the scientific field, she was given the chance to return to London to work at St. Thomas’ alongside Dr. David Tyrrell, who was conducting research at the Common Cold Unit in Wiltshire (in South West England).
Tyrrell had been working on a study with nasal washes and found that he could reproduce quite a few viruses associated with the common cold, but not all of them.
He sent the samples to Almeida, who described the particles as being like influenza viruses, but not exactly the same, thus managing to identify the first human coronavirus.
Almeida, Tyrrell, and his team decided to call it a “coronavirus” due to the corona or halo that surrounded it in the image as it was observed through the microscope.
However, the scientific paper in which she explained the finding was rejected, so the discovery of the B814 strain wasn’t published in the British Medical Journal until 1965. The first photographs didn’t appear in the Journal of General Virology until two years later.
After obtaining her PhD, Almeida completed her career at the British Wellcome Institute, where she was named on several patents in the field of virus imaging. She later became a yoga instructor.
In the late 1980s, she returned to the field of virology to help take pictures of the HIV virus.
Almeida died in 2007, at the age of 77. It is only now, thirteen years later, that her work has been most remembered. What she did gave us greater understanding of the current coronavirus which has become a global pandemic.
With information from EFE