Coronavirus successfully grown in Melbourne lab

Wednesday, 29 January, 2020

Coronavirus successfully grown in Melbourne lab

Scientists from The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity have successfully grown the Wuhan coronavirus from a patient sample — the first time the virus has been grown in cell culture outside of China — which should provide expert international laboratories with crucial information to help combat the virus.

The patient sample in question arrived at The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute on 24 January. Dr Julian Druce, Virus Identification Laboratory Head at the Institute, said this was a significant breakthrough as it will allow accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus globally.

“Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which is helpful for diagnosis; however, having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities — it will be a game changer for diagnosis,” Dr Druce said.

“The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe.”

Video: Wuhan coronavirus in culture.

Dr Mike Catton, Deputy Director of the Doherty Institute, added that possession of a virus isolate extends what can be achieved with molecular technology in the fight against the virus. He noted that the Doherty-grown virus is expected to be used to generate an antibody test, which allows detection of the virus in patients who haven’t displayed symptoms and were therefore unaware they had the virus.

“An antibody test will enable us to retrospectively test suspected patients so we can gather a more accurate picture of how widespread the virus is, and consequently, among other things, the true mortality rate,” Dr Catton said.

“It will also assist in the assessment of effectiveness of trial vaccines.”

One such vaccine is set to be developed by The University of Queensland (UQ), after receiving a request from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to use its rapid response technology to create a vaccine at unprecedented speed.

Dr Keith Chappell, from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, said the key to the speedy development of this potential vaccine is ‘molecular clamp’ technology, invented by UQ scientists and patented by commercialisation company UniQuest.

“The University of Queensland’s molecular clamp technology provides stability to the viral protein that is the primary target for our immune defence,” he said.

“The technology has been designed as a platform approach to generate vaccines against a range of human and animal viruses and has shown promising results in the laboratory targeting viruses such as influenza, Ebola, Nipah and MERS coronavirus.”

Video: Dr Keith Chappell describes UQ’s vaccine pipeline in 2019.

Professor Paul Young, Head of the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, added that the technology enables the rapid generation of new vaccines from the knowledge of a virus’s genetic sequence information.

“The team hopes to develop a vaccine over the next six months, which may be used to help contain this [coronavirus] outbreak,” he said.

“The vaccine would be distributed to first responders, helping to contain the virus from spreading around the world.”

Image caption: UQ scientists are busy in the lab, as part of an international collaboration to develop a vaccine for the recent coronavirus outbreak.

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