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Using stem cell models to screen potential COVID19 treatments

Institute News
Tuesday, June 2, 2020 - 5:49pm

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced $2 million in funding to establish human stem cell-based models of COVID19 infection, to better understand the disease and screen potential treatments. 

The first announcement from this funding will enable a collaborative research effort that combines the stem cell-based disease modelling and drug screening strengths of Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) with the virology expertise of The Doherty Institute and Queensland Institute of Medical Research Berghofer.

Our limited understanding of SARS-CoV2’s effects on the body’s tissues has restricted doctors’ capacity to treat patients optimally. The urgent search for safe and effective COVID19 treatments continues. 

As there are currently no licensed coronavirus-specific antiviral drugs, the research teams will screen drugs that are already approved for use in humans for other purposes. If successful in the lab, these drugs can be advanced directly to clinical trial.

Associate Professor Enzo Porello, who heads MCRI’s Heart Regeneration laboratory, will first generate stem cell-derived human heart tissue. Together with University of Melbourne Professor Kanta Subbarao at the Doherty Institute and researchers at QIMR Berghofer, the team will then infect this tissue with SARS-CoV-2 and begin the intensive process of screening and validating drug candidates.

Professor Melissa Little, co-chair of the Australian Stem Cell Therapies Mission and stem cells theme leader at MCRI said, “One of the most impressive aspects of Australian medical research is our ability to be agile, responsive and collaborative. Together with our partners, including the Australian Government, we were able to initiate this research with unprecedented speed.

“Importantly, any treatment identified through this project will have value not only for COVID19, but potentially for future pandemics as well.”

The funding is part of a larger $66M Federal Government package into vaccine development, antivirals and other COVID19 therapies.

To read more on MCRIs efforts to combat COVID19, visit: www.mcri.edu.au/covid-19