Australian researchers map immune response to coronavirus
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[March 18, 2020]
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian researchers
said on Tuesday they have mapped the immune responses from one of
country's first coronavirus patients, findings the health minister said
were an important step in developing a vaccine and treatment.
The coronavirus has infected more than 168,000 people worldwide and
killed at least 6,610, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
While the bulk of those infected experience only mild symptoms, it is
severe or critical in 20% of patients. The virus mortality rate is about
3.4%, the WHO has estimated.
As scientists scramble to develop a vaccine, researchers at Australia's
Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said they had taken
an important step in understanding the virus.
By examining the blood results from an unidentified woman in her 40s,
they discovered that people's immune systems respond to coronavirus in
the same way it typically fights flu.
The findings help scientists understand why some patients recover while
others develop more serious respiratory problems, the researchers said.
"People can use our methods to understand the immune responses in larger
COVID-19 cohorts, and also understand what’s lacking in those who have
fatal outcomes," said Katherine Kedzierska, professor of microbiology
and immunology at the University of Melbourne, which took part in the
research. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
As researchers monitored the Australian patient's immune response, they
were able to accurately predict when she would recover.
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Katherine Kedzierska, professor of microbiology and immunology at
the University of Melbourne, takes part in the reseach to map immune
response to coronvirus, is pictured at an unknown location in this
undated handout picture. University of Melbourne Peter Doherty
Institute/Handout via REUTERS
Researchers did not name the patient, but said she was an Australian
citizen who was evacuated out of Wuhan, the epicentre of the
coronavirus outbreak in China.
Health Minister Greg Hunt described the development as "world
leading" and a major development in research on the disease.
"It's about fast-tracking a vaccine by identifying which candidates
are most likely to be successful," Hunt told reporters. "It's also
about fast-tracking potential therapies and treatments for patients
who already have coronavirus."
At least a dozen drugmakers around the world are working on vaccines
or antiviral and other treatments for the fast-spreading contagion.
But investment costs for vaccines could run as high as $800 million
in a process that, even if accelerated, will likely take more than a
year until approval, according to executives from companies involved
in the effort.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jane
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