Thursday, 02 July 2020 12:10

CSIRO team finds lab-grown cells can be used to study respiratory viruses

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Ciliated cells stained green for visualisation. Ciliated cells stained green for visualisation. Courtesy CSIRO

Australia's national science agency, the CSIRO, has found that cells from the human airway which are grown in a laboratory can be reliably used to study respiratory viruses such as the coronavirus that is causing the ongoing pandemic.

In a statement, the agency said this could reduce the use of animals in testing and speed up the development of drugs for human clinical trials.

The lead author on the findings, CSIRO research scientist Dr Elizabeth Pharo, said: "Clinical trials for new therapeutics can take significant time and money to establish, only for researchers to frequently discover that the treatment doesn't work in people.

"We found that our lab-grown airway cells mimic the human airway response to viruses and can be used to quickly test whether anti-viral treatments might work against a virus in a real person.

"This way we can 'fast fail' anti-virals before they get to the clinical trial stage, helping streamline the more promising ones through to human testing."

The findings have been published in the journal Viruses.

cells

Two types of mucins secreted by lab-grown goblet cells stained for visualisation. Courtesy CSIRO

Dr Pharo added that the airway model could be used to screen up to 100 anti-viral compounds in three months and the agency was looking at ways to speed up screening using robots.

The limitation of the study is that it cannot be used to study the more complex immune responses required to evaluate vaccine candidates.

"For many respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, the airways act as the 'first responders' to inhaled pathogens," said Dr Pharo.

"When we infected our airway epithelial cultures with the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus, the cells had the same innate immune response as in a live person's airway, with the production of cytokines and chemokines."

She said scientists at the CSIRO's high containment facility, the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, were now using this model to characterise how the virus that causes COVID-19 infects and damages healthy donor airway cells, compared to cells from donors with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes.

"It's hoped this work will help improve our understanding of how COVID-19 may affect people with pre-existing lung conditions," Dr Pharo added.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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