Inspiring Thursday: June Almeida (1930-2007)

Born in 1930 in Glasgow, June Almeida was a pioneer scientist that played a key role in identifying the coronaviruses half a century ago. Covid-19 is a new illness but it is caused by a coronavirus of the type first identified by Dr Almeida in 1964 at her laboratory in St Thomas’s Hospital in London. The microscopy technique Almeida developed was simple, yet revolutionary in the field of virology. 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.

Almeida grew up in Glasgow and was a bright and ambitions student, aspiring to attend university, however, she was forced to drop out of school at the age of 16 after failing to receive funding to study further. After dropping out of school she started working as a lab technician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where she used microscopes to help analyse tissue samples.

June’s career is full of great accomplishments. She used an innovative method to pile up viruses so that she could see them, using antibodies, leading her to identify one for Hepatitis B and the common cold. Together with David Tyrrell, she started working with a new specimen: coronaviruses, the base virus of SARS and COVID-19. June identified a plethora of viruses including rubella, which can cause several complications during pregnancy. Scientists had been studying rubella for decades, but Almeida was the first to see it.

Before her death in 2007 at the age of 77, Almeida returned to St. Thomas as an advisor and helped publish some of the first high-quality images of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.It is interesting to note that, today, researchers are still using her techniques to rapidly identify viruses. Fifty-six years after she first saw a coronavirus through a microscope, Almeida’s work is more relevant than ever. June Almeida is truly an inspiration!

Written by WAVE intern: Mariana Cunha


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