Multidisciplinary response to combat COVID-19

Multidisciplinary response to combat COVID-19

Illuminate newsletter header, Winter 2022
June 2022
WEHI’s expertise across a range of disciplines is fuelling our efforts to find much-needed treatments, detect infection clusters, develop diagnostic tools and optimise vaccine strategies for COVID-19.

New antibody therapies

Professor Wai-Hong Tam co-led the monoclonal antibody

Scientists from WEHI and the Doherty Institute have found monoclonal antibodies that can block the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering cells – the first step in the infection cycle – in preclinical models of COVID-19 infection.

Antibodies are naturally occurring proteins that play a crucial role in our immune system’s ability to recognise and fight infections.

“Our research indicates that these monoclonal antibodies are leading candidates to be developed into a treatment for COVID-19,” said Professor Wai-Hong Tham, who co-led the study.

Monoclonal antibodies have emerged as powerful therapeutics both to prevent and treat a range of diseases including cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. The treatment could be particularly useful in preventing severe COVID-19 disease in older people and those who are immunocompromised.

This research is part of a consortium-led effort bringing together Australian academic and industry leaders in infectious diseases and antibody therapeutics at WEHI, the Doherty Institute, the Burnet Institute, the Kirby Institute, CSL, Affinity Bio and CSIRO.

“We aim to understand the duration of protective immunity to the virus and new variants, and to establish factors that contribute to both protective and waning responses.”

Biomarkers for severity

Excessive inflammation in the lungs is a serious and potentially deadly complication in people with COVID-19.

In a study that has the potential to revolutionise the way patients are treated and alleviate pressure on the nation’s healthcare system, WEHI computational biology researchers and collaborators have identified biomarkers that could assist in the early identification of people at high risk of developing severe COVID-19.

The research, a collaboration with The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and Hospital Marcelino Champagnat in Curitiba, Brazil, found the presence of the IFI27 gene was a reliable prediction of disease progression and was strongly associated with severe lung inflammation – a key indicator of severe COVID-19.

WEHI researchers, led by Dr Chin Wee Tan, are now in an international effort to translate the research into a diagnostic test.

Study probes immunity

People who have recovered from COVID-19, and their close contacts, could hold the key to understanding how immunity to the disease develops, how long it lasts and what happens when immunity is lost.

Study investigator Dr Vanessa Bryant said understanding immunity to COVID-19 was vital for developing vaccination and booster strategies for the community, as well as targeted strategies that may be needed for vulnerable groups. 

“WEHI’s COVID PROFILE study follows immune responses in adult COVID-recovered or vaccinated volunteers for 12 months. We aim to understand the duration of protective immunity to the virus and new variants, and to establish factors that contribute to both protective and waning responses.”

A major area of work is measuring virus-specific antibody and memory responses over time to current and emerging variants of concern and linking this data with national modelling efforts.

Wastewater detection

Wastewater testing has been described as a ‘game-changer’ in Victoria’s efforts to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. It has led to the confirmed identification of previously undetected infection clusters across the state.

Associate Professor Aaron Jex and his lab have played a key role in Victoria’s wastewater testing programs for COVID-19, including developing new methods to confirm the presence of viral fragments in positive samples and working with the Victorian Department of Health on how to use this information in the public health response.

Using methods developed in the Jex lab, wastewater testing accurately identified the first intrusion of the BA.1 and BA.2 variants in Victoria and tracked their rise to predominance. The program provides a vital, early warning system to detect new virus variants, reduce the risk of new waves of COVID-19 infections and slow their spread.

Collective impact

WEHI would like to sincerely thank all our supporters who donated to our COVID-19 research. Every gift contributes to a significant ‘collective impact’ that truly makes a difference. Also critical is support from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund and the Victorian Government.

Learn more about the COVID PROFILE study and find out if you are eligible to participate.

Super Content: 
Researcher facing news media crews

Catch up on our latest research discoveries and announcements.

Visualisation of SARS-CoV-2

Our researchers are working towards better approaches to diagnose, treat and prevent the spread of coronaviruses, both to address the current COVID-19 global outbreak as well as in preparedness for likely future coronaviral disease outbreaks.

Visualisation of SARS-CoV-2

WEHI researchers are studying ‘nanobodies’ – tiny immune proteins made by alpacas – in a bid to understand whether they might be effective in blocking SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Three researchers in a laboratory

The COVID PROFILE study will use blood samples from people who have recovered from COVID-19, and their close contacts, to look in detail at how immunity to the disease develops, how long it lasts and what happens when immunity is lost.