Infection & immunity
At MCRI, we’re researching the differences in the ways that kids experience COVID-19 infection and immunity compared to adults. We are investigating the modes of infection transmission for kids and families; the role played by age-specific blood clotting factors; and treatments and preventatives that could make the difference in COVID-19.
Professor Terry Nolan is contributing to the Doherty Institute’s national initiative to rapidly coordinate an alliance of clinical trial centres. While the lower rates of infection in Australia are unlikely to make us attractive for phase III trials, we are ideally placed, and have extensive experience to undertake phase I-II clinical trials.
The MCRI has launched the EPICENTRE (ESPNIC Covid pEdiatric Neonatal Registry), an international, multi-center and multidisciplinary initiative to study the epidemiology, clinical course and outcomes of children and newborns needing critical care for SARS-CoV-2 infection. EPICENTRE will contain symptom, treatment and outcome data on the largest number of paediatric COVID-19 intensive care cases worldwide.
This initiative is a joint collaboration with European Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Society partners in France and Italy. The MCRI was chosen to lead this initiative due to our international reputation for running trials and registries in children, and because Australia is not experiencing the same acute healthcare pressures.
Project Leads: A/Professor David Tingay and A/Prof Daniele De Luca (Paris, France)
A/Prof Nigel Crawford and Dr Shidan Tosif is leading Victoria’s contribution to a World Health Organization led study aiming to examine key clinical, epidemiological, virological characteristics and transmission within families of the first 100 cases of COVID-19 infection in countries across the globe.
A striking feature of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic is the relatively low incidence in children. This is markedly different to almost every other infectious disease, particularly those due to viruses.
By understanding the factors behind why some children are protected or become asymptomatic, we can begin to understand why there is an increasing gradient of COVID-19 infection severity with age. This research could hold the key to discovering effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
Professors Paul Monagle and Vera Ignjatovic are investigating the contribution of age-specific differences in blood clotting to the age-specific epidemiology of COVID-19. Understanding the mechanisms of clot formation in patients with COVID-19 will identify drug targets that could alleviate the devastating blood clot-related complications in infected patients.
Dr Amanda Gwee is leading a world-first paediatric clinical trial to determine the efficacy of oral hydroxchloroquine care for children with moderate to severe COVID-19. Preliminary evidence suggests that HCQ - already used to manage arthritis, lupus and malaria in children, may inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection. Outcomes may change clinical care for children infected with COVID-19 and severe acute respiratory distress.
Professor Andrew Steer is working with collaborator to establish a framework to conduct non-Sars-CoV-2 human challenge studies. MCRI is the only place in Australia that has conducted human challenge trials of throat infection. The model will be imperative for screening and testing new therapies and vaccine candidates.
MCRI is a key Australian member of the international COVID Human Genetic Effort (CHGE) consortium. MCRI researchers, with colleagues at the Garvan Institute, will conduct NATA accredited whole genome and whole exome sequencing to screen for genetic variants in relevant biological pathways that could be functionally relevant, but not obvious until exposed to COVID-19.
This work will identify underlying genetic variations that could help to predict the severity of the disease, potentially uncovering new opportunities for personalised approaches to treatment of individuals exposed to the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
The team is primarily interested in disease “outliers” – younger people (<50) with no predisposing health issues who appear to have particularly severe disease and the very elderly (>80) or those who are “hyper-exposed” (house companions of infected individuals or ICU workers) who contract COVID-19, but appear to have a particularly mild clinical course.
Project Lead: Professor John Christodoulou