A GLASGOW-BORN scientist has been posthumously honoured for her discovery of coronavirus.

On Friday last week, more than 50 years on from her discovery, Dr June Almeida was given a prize by the Baird of Bute society in the RAF Club in London by the club’s patron, Sir Stephen Hillier. The Special Recognition Award was dedicated to Almeida, who died in 2007. Born in Glasgow in 1930, she was a pioneer in the field of virology.

In 1966, using immune electron microscopy technique, she identified a previously unknown virus in humans – later christened “coronavirus”. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, her work provided an understanding of the virus structure, upon which subsequent research has allowed the development of vaccines which are being used protect us from the more serious

impacts of the virus. Her feat was remarkable. The then-36 year-old scientist had left school at the age of 16. Born June Hart, she lived with her family in Dennistoun; her father a bus driver and her mother a shop assistant. A student at Whitehill Secondary, she had ambitions to attend university. But, as money was scarce, she left school and started work as a histopathology lab technician at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

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Here, a career in science was ignited, as the nature of the work required the use of a light microscope to analyse tissue samples. A move to London saw her take up a similar position at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. In London, she met and married a Venezuelan artist, Enrique Almeida.

In 1954, they immigrated to Toronto, Canada, where Almeida began working with an electron microscope at the Ontario Cancer Institute.

She soon began to develop skills that were recognised by others in the field of virology as unique. In 1963, she wrote an important paper setting out a suggested framework for the classification of virus particles.

In 1966, working at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, she identified a new virus responsible for causing cold symptoms in a group of boarding school boys. She co-authored a paper about the discovery, in which the new virus was given the name coronavirus, due to its surrounding spikes resembling a solar corona.

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By 1967, she had earned a doctorate, and later went on to capture the first image of the rubella virus and identify the virus structure that causes hepatitis B, as well as producing some of the first high-quality photographs of the HIV virus.

Her daughter, Dr Joyce Almeida said: “My mother would be delighted to know that her story might inspire others to enter the field of science. At the heart of her many skills was her great ability to communicate and to inspire other scientists to learn the new techniques she had developed.”

Baird of Bute Society founder, Christopher Markwell, said: “We Scots should be rightly proud of Dr Almeida’s contributions, and grateful to her pioneering work so foundational to the vaccines.”

June Almeida ,Virus Detective!, a children’s book by Suzanne Slade celebrating her achievements, was published earlier this month