Canadian research team isolates Covid-19 virus; coronavirus vaccine in testing stages
Canada may have just solved the coronavirus pandemic.
Canada may have just solved the coronavirus pandemic. In a secure Level 3 containment facility, a team of scientists from Sunnybrook Research Institute, McMaster University, and the University of Toronto - all of which are located in Canada - has isolated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the agent responsible for the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. The virus was cultured from two clinical specimens. This is not the first time that an unadulterated specimen of the virus has been contained outside the human body for further research and study; Chinese scientists did it first, followed by Australian and Italian teams who isolated and grew samples of the virus in laboratories. But this is the first time that a team of truly gifted scientists have come together to achieve this breakthrough in just a few short weeks.
The team has stated that this will be immensely valuable in helping scientists in Canada and around the world develop better diagnostic testing, medical treatments, as well as vaccines that are all desperately needed to stop this rampaging pandemic. It will also help them gain a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 biology, evolution, and clinical shedding.
Unfortunately, viruses are known to continuously mutate and evolve. Several strains of the coronavirus exist, and they are collectively known as Sars-CoV-2. The collective name for the clinical illnesses these viruses cause is Covid-19.
This is how the coronavirus works. Basically, whenever the virus infects someone and replicates in their respiratory tract, it mutates instantly, with about half a dozen genetic mutations occurring. Presently, the mutations have led to two main strains of the virus. The more virulent and prevalent strain is the one that is closely associated with the outbreak in Wuhan. The second one is reportedly less prevalent, with it having a lesser impact on its host.
Dr Samira Mubareka, microbiologist and infectious diseases physician at Sunnybrook Research Institute, said that we need key tools to develop solutions to this pandemic. "While the immediate response is crucial, longer-term solutions come from essential research into this novel virus,” she said.
“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, a clinical microbiologist at Sunnybrook. “It demonstrates the amazing things that can happen when we collaborate.”
Dr Arinjay Banerjee, the NSERC post-doctoral fellow at McMaster University, said that the research that he and his team conducted will have vast implications in studying and fighting this virus all over the world. “Now that we have isolated the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we can share this with other researchers and continue this teamwork,” he said. “The more viruses that are made available in this way, the more we can learn, collaborate and share.”
Meanwhile, in the cold reaches of Saskatchewan, Canada, there is more good news. A coronavirus vaccine is officially in the testing stages, and although there is still a long road ahead before it can be cleared for human use, researchers are hard at work as the grant money keeps pouring in.
Back in January 2020, when news of the coronavirus was still making its way out of Wuhan and into the world, the University of Saskatchewan started working on a vaccine for COVID-19. As researchers began accepting grants in order to make this possible, it was announced that the Saskatchewan research team was granted almost $1 million to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
Although it could take up to a year to complete, it is now confirmed that the vaccine is being tested on animals. As of now, there is no official date as to when it could be available for human use.
The CEO and Director of University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre, Volker Gerdts, said that researchers took their cues from everything that was discovered from the first SARS outbreak. He added that he was positive that the vaccine would work, as his team of researchers are now only a few weeks away from finishing the research stages. However, there is still a way to go. Once the animal testing is complete, any viable vaccine will need to be sent for clinical studies before being confirmed as safe for humans.
A press release posted on March 6 stated that the team was part of a $2.67 million federal rapid research funding initiative aimed at contributing to global efforts for combating COVID-19. This money has helped the 12-person team develop the best suitable vaccine.
According to the researchers, animal models are being used by scientists to evaluate vaccines, antiviral medications, and drugs to protect both animals and humans. The press release states: The global race is on to find out which is the best animal model for replicating the disease observed in humans. Is it mice, hamsters, or ferrets? Whichever model works best is the one we’re going to use. Once the model is developed, we will then be able to test our vaccine candidates for effectiveness. We will make the models available to other investigators who have leading candidate vaccines, antiviral drugs, and immunity-boosting therapies.
As of March 14th, it is estimated that there are over 130,000 Covid-19 cases the world over. The most affected countries are China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, France, USA, Switzerland, Norway, and Japan. The virus has not spared anyone, although it is the elderly, the immunocompromised, and the young who are most vulnerable to its onslaught. A vaccine, as well as a cure, are the need of the hour, and it is comforting to know that there are some truly dedicated and brilliant minds out there who are working to develop them.
And while we're on the subject of brilliance, it is worth noting that Canada has a history of some truly innovative and path-breaking breakthroughs in the field of medical innovation. Canada has discovered the first blood thinner, developed insulin, developed pablum, developed vaccines for diphtheria pertussis and tetanus, has made vast contributions to the development of the polio vaccine, identified the cystic fibrosis gene, and developed the infant meningitis vaccine, among others. Join me in celebrating some of their greatest achievements by reading about them here, and let us all cheer them on as they work to lead the world out of the darkness of this truly terrifying pandemic that has wiped out so many of us, and continues to claim new victims from day to day.