In a bid to find a vaccine and cure for the novel coronavirus, the University of Otago’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology will undertake research to isolate and grow SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, after taking samples from infected persons.
New Zealand, which has so far reported 1160 cases and one death, was put under lockdown two weeks ago and a national emergency was declared to contain the local transmission of the virus. Follow LIVE Updates
According to a media statement, Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu, who will lead the research team, said one of the biggest challenges about COVID-19 was how easily the virus gets transmitted from one person to another.
“The thing that makes it different from influenza or measles is that it is novel: we don’t have existing immunity to this virus, it is completely new,” he said.
The research will be carried out at a high-security Physical Containment Laboratory (PC3) of the Otago university by a team of scientists who recently developed a coronavirus test that was used to detect the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in Dunedin.
What is genome sequencing
Genome sequence refers to the unique genetic structure of any organism. Over a period of time, owing to several factors including climatic conditions, organisms develop minor but permanent changes in their genetic codes, called mutations, which are responsible for the diversity that is seen in any organism. For example, the virus strain now circulating in the Indian population could have undergone some mutation, and could be different from what is present in other populations or regions. These mutations can be observed only if the gene sequences are extracted from several samples of the virus.
“Once we have the virus, we will extract its Ribonucleic Acid (RNA), to provide positive controls for diagnosis in all clinical laboratories across the country. We also want to study the biology of the virus, and evaluate antiviral and vaccine strategies,” said Professor Quinones-Mateu.
Stating that about 50 different coronavirus vaccines were being tested, Professor Quinones-Mateu said at least two of them were already in clinical trials.
“Numerous research groups, many based on collaborations between industry and universities, are working on close to 100 different approaches to block the replication of the virus, looking to cure people with COVID-19,” he said.
The Otago lab has state-of-the art containment, ventilation, training, and safety systems and will allows researchers to work with the actual viral agent causing this disease.
Recently, India became the fifth country to successfully isolate the virus strain after Japan, Thailand, United States of America and China. Scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, have isolated 11 strains of COVID-19.
India had successfully used a combination of anti-HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir, on a coronavirus-infected elderly Italian couple at Jaipur. However, doctors have said no conclusion should be drawn with a single patient experiment.
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