Australian scientists have replicated the deadly coronavirus in laboratory conditions in a medical breakthrough that could give health experts crucial information to combat the virus.
Researchers at Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity have become the first to recreate the virus outside of China.
The lab-grown virus – which was developed from an infected patient – will be shared with the World Health Organisation before being given to labs across the globe.
The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Dr Julian Druce, Virus Identification Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute, said this was a significant breakthrough.
“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.”
Researchers across the world are trying to develop a vaccine to stop people dying from the coronavirus.
The Doherty Institute-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,” said Dr Mike Catton, deputy director of the Doherty Institute.
The death toll has jumped past 100 and there are now more than 4500 confirmed cases of infection in mainland China.
The city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the illness, remains on lockdown along with other Chinese cities as China authorities scramble to stop the disease spreading.
Five people are being treated in Australian hospitals for the virus, with four of those cases in NSW alone.