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June Almeida Discovered the First Human Coronavirus

Recognition for British Virologist

Image copyright Getty Images
June Almeida with her electron microscope at
the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto in 1963

The woman who discovered the first human coronavirus was the daughter of a Scottish bus driver, who left school at 16.

June Almeida went on to become a pioneer of virus imaging, whose work has come roaring back into focus during the present pandemic.

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 virologist was born June Hart in 1930 and grew up in a tenement near Alexandra Park in the north east of Glasgow. She left school with little formal education but got a job as a laboratory technician in histopathology at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Later she moved to London to further her career and in 1954 married Enriques Almeida, a Venezuelan artist. They moved to Toronto in Canada and, according to medical writer George Winter, it was at the Ontario Cancer Institute that Dr Almeida developed her outstanding skills with an electron microscope.

Mr Winter told Drivetime on BBC Radio Scotland her talents were recognised in the UK and she was lured back in 1964 to work at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in London, the same hospital that treated Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he was suffering from the Covid-19 virus.

She identified what became known as the first human coronavirus.

June Almeida died in 2007, at the age of 77.

Now 13 years after her death she is finally getting recognition she deserves as a pioneer whose work speeded up understanding of the virus that is currently spreading throughout the world.

You can read the full report here. 

Report courtesy of BBC Scotland.

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