Australian scientists working at a lab in the city of Melbourne, have made a major breakthrough towards combating the deadly coronavirus.
Researchers at the Doherty Institute have successfully replicated the coronavirus in laboratory conditions, using a patient sample, which will provide expert international laboratories with crucial information to help combat the virus.
The scientists achieved the breakthrough in just days and is the first time the virus has been grown in cell culture outside of China.
The duplication will allow the development of an antibody test, which detects the virus in patients who haven’t displayed symptoms.
The researchers said that they hope their new discovery may help efforts to diagnose and treat the virus, which has taken the lives of 132 people in China and infected nearly 6,000 others. There are also at least 80 cases confirmed in 16 other countries, including in Thailand, France, the US and Australia. No deaths have been reported outside China.
The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Dr Julian Druce, Virus Identification Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute stated that “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."
“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 Organisation (WHO) in Europe,” Dr Druce continued.
Further, Dr Mike Catton, Deputy Director of the Doherty Institute, stated that “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."
“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,” he added.
Dr Catton also attributed 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.”
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 from spreading.
On Wednesday morning, Australia's PM Scott Morrison announced that Australians trapped at the epicentre of China's deadly coronavirus outbreak will be evacuated to quarantine facilities set up on Christmas Island.
British Airways has also recently announced they have suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China. This comes after United Airlines, citing a significant decline in demand, is temporarily suspending some of its flights to China.
Passengers on some flights to China will also have to make do without hot meals, blankets, newspapers and magazines, as airlines set up measures to protect crew and travellers from the coronavirus.
Photos sourced from: Doherty Institute, BBC and News Corp Australia