Who is June Almeida? The scientist who discovered the coronavirus
A Scot married to a Venezuelan, June Almeida's pioneering research into coronaviruses was rejected in the 1960s, but now all eyes are on her.
In 1965, the British Medical Journal echoed a discovery that was silenced and rejected by the scientific community: an electron microscope specialist had managed to describe and photograph a new type of pathogen: the human coronavirus. It is shocking today that this discovery was rejected under the current circumstances. It took until 1967 for another journal, the Journal of General Virology, to publish the images of human coronaviruses that June Almeida had obtained.
But who was the scientist who's discovery has become so important today? June Dalziel Almeida (née Hart) was born in Glasgow in 1930 and died in Bexhill in December 2007. She had a strange life full of travel, which was reflected in her unorthodox methods of working with viruses and electron microscopes. Her father was a bus driver, and she was forced to leave school at the age of 16 for financial reasons.
Interestingly, leaving school allowed her to start working as a histopathologist (someone who studies microscopic tissue for diseases) at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. From there, she moved to a London institution: St. Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1954, she married a Venezuelan artist, Enrique Rosalio (Henry) Almeida (1913-1993), with whom she had a daughter named Joyce. The family moved to Canada so June could work as an electrophysiologist (doctor specializing in the heart's electrical activities) at the Ontario Cancer Institute. From that moment on, she began to be recognized for her research into different types of viruses.
June used a method of her own creation: using antibodies to pile up viruses so that she could see them. It's how she was able to identify one for Hepatitis B and the common cold. She also made the important discovery of seeing the rubella virus. Together with David Tyrrell, she started working with a new specimen: coronaviruses, the base virus of SARS and COVID-19.
Almeida is considered the discoverer of human coronaviruses, since she compared the new, unknown strains with images she remembered from other pathogens that had infected rats and chickens. She chose the name because the halos surrounding the new virus resembled those surrounding the Sun.
In 1979, June Almeida published a reference work on viral diagnostics. Fifty years have passed since June Almeida was able to publish her work on coronaviruses, and it is today she is recognized worldwide. Without her work, the process of detecting and preventing the pandemic would have been much slower.