Aussie scientists grow coronavirus in lab
Australian scientists have managed to replicate the coronavirus in laboratory conditions in a medical breakthrough that could help speed up the development of a vaccine to combat the deadly 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 as it will allow accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus globally.
"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 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," Doherty Institute deputy director Dr Mike Catton said.
"It will also assist in the assessment of effectiveness of trial vaccines."
The virus was grown from a patient sample that arrived at the Royal Melbourne Hospital's Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute on Friday, 24 January.
"We've planned for an incident like this for many, many years and that's really why we were able to get an answer so quickly," said Dr Catton.
Dr Catton also credited the success to Australia's network of laboratories and public health authorities effectively working together.
"We are very pleased at how it has come together and are glad we were able to respond quickly, which we will continue to do so."
Researchers across the world are trying to develop a vaccine to stop people dying from the coronavirus.
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.