COVID-19 toolkit to boost vaccine development and research

Microscopy image of the fluorescent SARS-CoV-2 virus (in pink) engineered by Griffith University and University of Tartu researchers showing infected cells.
Microscopy image of the fluorescent SARS-CoV-2 virus (in pink) engineered by Griffith University and University of Tartu researchers showing infected cells.

An international collaboration of researchers from Griffith University’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland, the University of Tartu, the University of Glasgow and the University of Dundee have developed a COVID-19 laboratory research toolkit for sharing with researchers across the globe.

Designed to expedite SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development, drug discovery and fundamental research, particularly in laboratories unaccustomed to working with coronaviruses, the toolkit includes:

  • DNA-launched, single plasmid SARS-CoV-2 reverse genetics system, derived from the original Wuhan-Hu-1 isolate. This genetic tool will allow researchers to make synthetic infectious coronaviruses using a specially constructed DNA plasmid that can be grown in bacteria and then used to make viruses in cultured mammalian cells. It will allow researchers to easily manipulate the coronavirus genome and permit the study of individual SARS-CoV-2 mutations or combinations of mutation, such as those found in the new variants.

“Based on the original Wuhan virus, this system has several genetic modifications that enable far more effective and productive research investigations than using the natural virus itself,” says lead researcher Professor Suresh Mahalingam.

“It will be valuable for drug discovery, basic research, vaccine testing and development of new diagnostics.”

  • A near-comprehensive panel of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 proteins generated using whole SARS-CoV-2 proteins (and some other coronavirus proteins) as antigens in sheep.

“This special collection of purified and highly specific antibodies is an enormously valuable resource for virologists and immunologists.

“It allows for immediate visualisation of the distinct staining and spatial distribution profiles of all but two SARS-CoV-2 proteins.”

  • A panel of validated SARS-CoV-2 patient isolates and modified cell lines.

Professor Mahalingam says the panel, which provides a range of virus isolates from patients around the globe, as well as cell lines in which the viruses can grow, will greatly promote COVID-19 research.

“For example, the tools will enable ‘high-throughput screening’ to identify new drugs against COVID-19,” he said.

“This approach enables researchers to rapidly test hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds for their ability to interfere with SARS-CoV-2 replication in human cells. The tools will also enable researchers to precisely determine how drug candidates affect virus replication.”

The research published in PLOS Biology describes an array of virological tools all of which, the researchers have made accessible (not-for-profit) to the broader research community.

To date the researchers have delivered more than 200 orders to laboratories worldwide.

Griffith University Research Fellow Dr Ali Zaid who is co-lead author of the paper says that the sharingof these highly valuable resources will significantly accelerate SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 research.

“Indeed, our tools are being shared and used and are likely to feature in future SARS-COV-2 studies.”

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