Funding allows researchers to uncover secrets of COVID-19 immunity

Federal funding will help a team of researchers determine how long immunity lasts in people who’ve recovered from COVID-19, critical information as the world waits for a vaccine.

The Commonwealth Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has granted almost a million dollars to the two year project, run by The University of Queensland, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Monash University, Mater Research and Queensland Health.

UQ’s Dr Kirsty Short said it was a unique opportunity to understand how long people have immunity to the virus, what kind of immunity they have and whether it’s different for different patients.

“This is important to know because in the advent that it takes a while to get a vaccine, we need to know who is at risk of re-infection, and when there is a vaccine we need to know who is likely to need boosters,” Dr Short said.

Associate Professor Stephanie Gras from Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute said the funding would allow the researchers to provide a deep understanding of the different components of the immune response to infection.

“We will focus our effort in understanding what parts of the virus are the most important to target for a protective and long-lived immune response that will be critical in a vaccine,” she said.

Lead investigator, QIMR Berghofer’s Associate Professor Corey Smith, said the project involved examining immune cells from recovered patients.

“Our next step will be to correlate these responses with antibody responses and start to investigate the impact age and co-morbidities have on the quality of the response and how well they are maintained over time,” Dr Smith said.

“We hope this insight will be important for our understanding of what goes wrong in patients who develop severe complications and to determine which groups of people could remain at risk of infection despite previous exposure.”

Dr Short said it was an unbelievable feeling to be able to continue the collaborative research.

“We have been working non-stop since the pandemic began to try and answer some of these important questions and now we have the financial support to do so, so it’s great to see our hard work can now be translated into improved health outcomes for Australians,” she said.

“We hope to be able to feed some valuable information into public health responses and vaccine design and roll-out as soon as possible.”

Please email the Brisbane study if you have recovered from COVID-19 and you are interested in participating: Covid.DiabetesStudy@mater.org.au.

Image above left (L-R): Associate Professor Corey Smith, Associate Professor Stephanie Gras, Dr Kirsty Short and Associate Professor Kim Jacobson.

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