Researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), with other Melbourne-based partners, will use human stem cells to better understand the effects of COVID-19 on different organs after being awarded a State Government grant. 

Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford today announced the stem cell initiative was among the projects to share in $5.5 million from the government's COVID-19 Research Fund. 

The MCRI project has also received an additional $600,000 in philanthropic support from the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation (SFMRF).

MCRI Theme Director of Cell Biology Professor Melissa Little said the project team would use human-derived stem cells to better understand the virus's effects on different organ systems in the body including the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain, immune system and blood vessels, to support the development of targeted treatments.

The collaborative study which includes The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, The Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI), and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, will benefit from cutting edge stem cell processing equipment, which will recreate human tissues affected in COVID-19 patients.   

The Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation Stem Cell Based Disease Modelling Facility at MCRI also provides capacity to perform rapid drug screening to allow for swift transition from diagnosis to treatment.

Professor Little said the research team's ability to combine different cell types would allow them to investigate how the virus spreads in organs and how infected cells respond to each other.   

"There is growing evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can damage organs beyond lungs, including the heart, blood vessels, immune cells, kidney and even neural tissue. But a limited understanding of the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on such tissues limits our capacity to treat patients in the most appropriate way and anticipate long-term complications," she said. 

"This collaborative program will increase our understanding of disease pathology, identify underlying risk factors, change clinical care to protect the patient from severe complications, facilitate the development of targeted treatment options and better prepare us for the next pandemic."

Available for interview: 
Professor Melissa Little

Media Contact: 
Bridie Byrne
MCRI communications specialist
+613 9936 6211/ 0403 664 416 

About MCRI
The Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world. They are pioneering new treatments, trialling better vaccines and improving ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. It is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions.