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Top Canadian university scientists achieve a breakthrough in coronavirus vaccine effort

Thanks to nimble collaboration, the team was able to isolate the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a biosafety level 3 containment facility.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   14-03-2020

 Canadian University Research Team
Pictured left to right: Dr Robert Kozak, Dr Samira Mubareka, and Dr Arinjay Banerjee

We hail individual geniuses, but success in science often comes through collaboration as demonstrated by an ace team of Canadian university scientists who have successfully isolated and grown copies of the coronavirus — bringing the world a step closer to finding a vaccine to fight the deadly illness.

Researchers from the University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Research Institute, and McMaster University were able to isolate and replicate the virus in a lab using samples taken from two Canadian patients.

Thanks to nimble collaboration, the university team was able to culture the virus from two clinical specimens in a biosafety level 3 containment facility.

“Now that we have isolated the SARS-CoV-2 virus [the agent responsible for COVID-19], we can share this with other researchers and continue this teamwork,” Dr Arinjay Banerjee, NSERC post-doctoral fellow at McMaster University, said in a statement.

“The more viruses that are made available in this way, the more we can learn, collaborate and share.”

The isolated virus will help researchers in Canada and across the world develop better diagnostic testing, treatments and vaccines, and gain a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 biology, evolution and clinical shedding.

“One of the key tools to try to contain, or limit transmission of infectious diseases is case identification,” said Dr Samira Mubareka, a virologist in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine and at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, in Toronto.

“If you identify cases, then you can contain them. If you miss them, then you don’t,” she added.

We rely too heavily on the narrative that science is the history of great men and great women, and often underestimate how much it is a result of teamwork and partnerships.

“Researchers from these world-class institutions came together in a grassroots way to successfully isolate the virus in just a few short weeks,” said Dr. Rob Kozak, clinical microbiologist at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto. “It demonstrates the amazing things that can happen when we collaborate.”

Dr Samira Mubarek also pointed out that while the “immediate response is crucial, longer-term solutions come from essential research” into the novel virus.
 

China’s vaccine could be ready by April

Meanwhile, eight institutes in China are working on five approaches to inoculations in an effort to combat COVID-19,” according to the “South China Morning Post.” Chinese officials say it could result in a vaccine ready for emergency situations and clinical trials next month.

While it would take at least 12 to 18 months to ensure the vaccines are safe for the general public, under Chinese law, they can be deployed earlier for urgent use in a major public health emergency, as long as the benefits outweigh the risks.
 

Teaching and learning about coronavirus

Clearly, a global health crisis can also be a learning opportunity. In mid-February, the Imperial College London debuted a free class on the online learning platform Coursera, titled "Science Matters: Let's Talk About COVID-19." The course already has more than 7,000 enrollments, making it the second most popular Coursera offering so far in 2020.

According to NPR, Amy DeCillis at New York University Shanghai, has shifted her capstone senior project to be about coronavirus and her own quarantine experience.

"I'm content with my decision. It sounds cheesy, but I'm learning so much about life, and friendship, and the world, and myself in the process," said DeCillis, who says she's “not sorry” she stayed through the quarantine.

The outbreak has infected more than 137,000 people in at least 117 countries and regions as of Friday evening — and caused more than 5,000 deaths.

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21 March 2020


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