Scientists in Melbourne have successfully grown the coronavirus, the first time the virus has been successfully recreated outside of China

Citizens wear masks to defend against new viruses in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
  • Melbourne scientists have successfully grown the coronavirus from a patient sample.
  • It’s the first time the virus has been grown in a cell culture outside of China.
  • The lab-grown virus is set to be used as an antibody test on patients who don’t show symptoms of the virus.
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Aussie scientists have made a coronavirus breakthrough.

Melbourne scientists have successfully grown the Wuhan coronavirus from a patient sample, which could help provide international experts with crucial information to beat the virus. It’s the first time the virus has been grown in a cell culture outside of China.

The scientists come from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity – a joint venture between the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the University of Melbourne.

Dr Julian Druce, Virus Identification Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute said the lab-grown coronavirus was a major breakthrough as it would allow accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus around the world.

“Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which is helpful for diagnosis, however, having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities – it will be a game-changer for diagnosis,” Druce said in a statement.

“The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the World Health Organisation in Europe.”

The virus was grown from a patient sample that arrived on Friday 24 January at the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, at the Doherty Institute. “We’ve planned for an incident like this for many, many years and that’s really why we were able to get an answer so quickly,” Doherty Institute Deputy Director Dr Mike Catton said in a statement.

It is set to be used to create an antibody test, to detect the virus in patients who haven’t shown symptoms of coronavirus and weren’t aware they had it.

“An antibody test will enable us to retrospectively test suspected patients so we can gather a more accurate picture of how widespread the virus is, and consequently, among other things, the true mortality rate,” Catton said, adding that it will also help assess the effectiveness of trial vaccines.

More than 4,500 people have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 100 people have died as a result. In Australia, there are five confirmed cases of the coronavirus – four in Sydney and one in Victoria, the ABC reported.

Last week, the University of Queensland was asked by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. “The team hopes to develop a vaccine over the next six months, which may be used to help contain this outbreak,” Head of the university’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, Professor Paul Young, said in a statement at the time. “The vaccine would be distributed to first responders, helping to contain the virus from spreading around the world.”

The Smart Traveller website, handled by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has advised Australians to “reconsider” their need to travel to China.