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29 Jul 2021

Doherty Institute scientists awarded prestigious Medical Journal of Australia National Research Prize

Scientists from The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) in Melbourne have been awarded the Medical Journal of Australia’s National Research Prize for being the first to isolate and sequence SARS-CoV-2 outside of China.

The prize, sponsored by MDA National, awards $10,000 to the authors of the best research article published in the Medical Journal of Australia in the previous calendar year.

Doherty Institute scientists successfully grew the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from a patient sample, providing expert international laboratories with crucial information to help combat the virus.

Their winning research article described this process which included isolation, whole genome sequencing, imaging and rapid sharing of virus from the patient.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Dr Julian Druce, Virus Identification Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute, said this was a significant breakthrough as it allowed accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus globally.

“Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which was helpful for diagnosis, however, having the real virus meant we had the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities - it was be a game changer for diagnosis,” Dr Druce said.

Within 24 hours of isolation, the first Australian SARS‐CoV‐2 isolate was shared with local and overseas reference laboratories and major North American and European culture collections.

The authors of the paper wrote that this ability to quickly share information has been an important aspect of the scientific response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Sharing information about diagnostic assays and genomic data has enabled rapid elucidation of the emergence and spread of the novel virus,” the authors wrote.

“We continue to share live virus with other agencies, both locally and overseas, involved in the development and testing of therapeutic agents and vaccines. This is an essential function of public health reference and research laboratories, and we strongly encourage others to apply a similarly collaborative approach to streamlining efforts to diagnose, prevent, and treat COVID‐19 during this public health emergency.”

The team will present their article during the Australian Medical Association’s National Conference on Saturday, 31 July.

This is a time-lapse video of a cell-culture infected with the novel coronavirus. A single layer of kidney cells is visible at the start of the footage and slowly, black dots appear across the cell sheet. The virus cannot be seen, but evidence of its presence can be as infected cells which appear as black dots. As more cells become infected with virus they lift off the cell layer and appear as black dots. More and more infected cells become visible. The video footage starts following 40hrs of culture and finishes following 80hrs of incubation.