How CCM professor is contributing to development of drugs to combat COVID-19

Everyone is looking for a cure for COVID-19. Brian Olson, a professor in the departments of biology and chemistry at County College of Morris, just might be onto something.

Olson recently had his research on coronavirus targets, “An Online Repository of Solvation Thermodynamic and Structural Maps of SARS-CoV-2 Targets,” published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Computer-Aided Molecular Design to assist with the development of drugs to combat the virus.

Brian Olson. (CCM)

Olson, who is working with Tom Kurtzman of Lehman College and a team of researchers, is the lead author on the paper, which provides maps of water molecules on the virus’s proteins that also are known as solvation maps.

Olson said knowing which water molecules need to be displaced, and which do not, provides essential information to guide the development of drugs to treat COVID-19. The first step toward determining that is mapping where the water molecules are located on the proteins, he said.

“We were seeing clusters on multiple continents and were unable to trace the sources of infection,” he said. “It was clear this was going to be an immediate and international public health issue. That compelled me to do something.”

The team utilized GIST, the computational tool developed by Kurtzman.

Now that solvation maps of the COVID-19 virus are available, Olson and his team plan to use that information to search for new drugs, they said. Making the information public and free also will aid others in their search for new and effective pharmaceuticals to defeat the coronavirus.

According to Altmetric’s Attention Score, which measures the online attention and activity of research papers, the work conducted by the Olson team ranks in the Top 25%. Given that ranking, based on more than 2,200 views and over 300 downloads of the paper, Olson is encouraged about the development of drugs to fight the coronavirus.

“I have never seen the international scientific community come together the way it has now to find some answers,” he said. “There is international collaboration and the sharing of information that previously would not have been shared.”

Olson, who teaches forensic science at CCM, joined the college’s faculty in 2018. At CCM, he and several other professors developed the college’s first virtual reality class to teach students forensic science skills by analyzing murder scenes. Along with his work on the coronavirus, he is researching the development of painkillers to replace opiates.

Olson, who earned his associate degree in science from the Borough of Manhattan Community College, a bachelor’s in biochemistry from Hunter College and a master’s in biochemistry from the City University of New York Graduate Center, is now working on his doctorate in biochemistry from CUNY Graduate Center.

Olson said he is a strong advocate for community colleges.

“Community colleges place a high value on quality teaching,” he said. “I am so fortunate. I have fun researching tiny molecules and, on top of that, I get paid to talk to students about narcotics, murders and other fascinating topics. I can’t imagine having a better job.”