The insightful scientist who photographed the coronavirus

The Covid-19 disease, which started in China, is caused by a coronavirus. The researchers were able to identify it using techniques that Dr. June Almeida had designed 56 years earlier. June Almeida described the human coronavirus in 1964 and her studies have been decisive for the fight without quarter in this terrible pandemic in which we continue to be immersed.

Although she is a little known scientist, June Dalziel Hart or June Dalziel Almeida (her first husband’s surname) was a Scottish virologist who had to resume her studies late because her father’s salary, a bus driver, did not allow her to enroll in the University from Glasgow.

June was born on October 5, 1950. At the age of 17 she had to abandon her studies and start working as a histopathology technician, first at the Royal Infirmary Hospital in Glasgow and later at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. In 1954, she married Henry (Enrique Rosalío) Almeida, a Venezuelan artist, and had their only daughter, Joyce, who is currently a psychiatrist in London. The couple moved to Canada and there, thanks to her experience and skills, June was hired as an electron microscopy technician at the Ontario Cancer Institute. June improved the negative staining with antibodies by being able to visualize the viruses that clustered around them, such as the rubella virus. His work became more and more specialized and, in 1963, he published an article in the prestigious journal ‘Science’ with images of viruses in human blood.

Learning of her expertise, Professor Waterson, Head of Microbiology at the St. Thomas Hospital in London, hired her and June returned to England in 1964. She improved her skills and was able to identify hepatitis viruses (A and B) and hepatitis viruses. common cold. His fame made Dr. David Tyrell, of the Common Constipation Research Institute, send him a sample from a child with a strange flu, the B814 sample, since they did not identify what pathogen it was. Almeida managed to obtain images of this virus, which was similar to the one she had already seen in mice and chickens. They called it coronavirus because of the halo it had (‘corona’ in Latin). It was the first human coronavirus. Although at the beginning they refused to publish it because they believed they were images of poor quality, the ‘British Medical Journal’ published it in 1965. And two years later, the ‘Journal of General Virology’ agreed to publish the images of the coronavirus (free download article) .

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That year, 1967, June transferred to London Graduate School of Medicine with Professor Waterson’s team. She immediately obtained a Doctor of Science degree for her studies on virus identification, diagnosis and imaging, and began working at the Wellcome Institute, where she was the author of several patents. At the age of 40, he began a period of recognition: in 1970, he was a member of the Royal Society of Sciences; in 1977, he received the Stewart Award; in 1979, at the World Health Organization, he published the ‘Manual for rapid viral diagnosis laboratory’; in 1980, he was commander of the Order of the British Empire; and in 1986, he received the Conway Evans Award.

In her personal life, in 1982 she divorced Henry Almeida, and in 1985, at age 55, she voluntarily retired to Bexhill with her second husband (virologist Philip Gardner). There she lived peacefully for 22 years as a yoga teacher and as a restorer of porcelain and antiques. However, she occasionally returned as a consultant to the Santo Tomás Hospital, participating in the first high-quality images of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (the AIDS virus).

June was an unconventional person who insisted on seeking simple explanations for the most complex cases. She was defined by her disciples as a pioneering and brilliant woman, very original and with a keen sense of humor. Being a woman didn’t stop her: June was persistent and they say she “carved her own path, responded energetically to any criticism, and was usually right (Professor Pennington, University of Aberdeen).” June had an unusual insight with which she imagined new strategies to increase knowledge.

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Dr. June Almeida passed away on December 1, 2007 of a heart attack before knowing that the results of her talent and dedication were going to be crucial in saving us from this historic pandemic. And we thank you for your work, because, without your discovery, the responses to this coronavirus, while still difficult, would not have been that fast.

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