Dunedin will soon become a key national centre for research into the virus that causes Covid-19 infections, thanks partly to a rare, high-level containment laboratory housed by the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, University of Otago.
Dunedin will soon become a key national centre for research into the virus that causes Covid-19 infections, thanks partly to a rare, high-level containment laboratory. Prof Miguel Quinones-Mateu, of the University of Otago microbiology and immunology department, said up to 20 scientific teams, in New Zealand and abroad, would soon be working closely with city researchers and the laboratory.
"We’re really excited about the opportunity," Prof Quinones-Mateu said.
"A lot of people are waiting for us to grow the virus.
"We have strong collaborations with the US and Canada."
It is understood the department’s PC3 containment laboratory is one of only about five of its kind in the country, enabling researchers to work safely with live viruses. Prof Quinones-Mateu, a Venezuelan-born specialist in novel viruses, became director of the university’s Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases early last year. He was yesterday cautiously optimistic that New Zealand was on a positive track in fighting Covid-19, and that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had done the right thing to shut down the country.
The overall outcome would not be clear for several more weeks, but he was hopeful New Zealand’s approach would avoid the high infection rates and death toll that had occurred in Italy, Spain and in the United States.
Prof Quinones-Mateu, departmental colleague Associate Prof James Ussher, who is also a consultant clinical microbiologist at Southern Community Laboratories, and SCL molecular pathology technical manager Dr Jenny Grant and others recently adapted overseas technology to help develop a coronavirus test which earlier this month detected Dunedin’s first two confirmed Covid-19 cases.
Prof Quinones-Mateu said Dunedin had a good supply — more than a month’s worth — of reagents and other materials needed to run the tests, and further supplies had already been ordered and were available from several parts of the world, including Asia.
Hewas looking forward to growing Sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19, in the laboratory and working with other New Zealand researchers, from Government agencies, universities, and the private sector. Research would include testing antiviral drugs, and vaccine-related studies.
Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu with lab manager Dr. Leonor Hernández (stock image pre social distancing).
* Tom Devine