Feature: Taming COVID-19 in the lab

Source: Xinhua| 2020-03-28 19:53:38|Editor: huaxia

BEIJING, March 28 (Xinhua) -- Early work by Chinese experts to successfully isolate the novel coronavirus has led to a template that will help in creating a vaccine.

The research, led by the Institute of Pathogen Biology, Chinese Academy of Medical Science, provides important resources for follow-up research, including drug screening and vaccine evaluation.

To collect samples from patients and obtain the virus, it was not only necessary to isolate the virus, but to enable it to passage - or propagate - stably, said Ren Lili, deputy director of the institute's pathogen identification laboratory.

"Therefore, we are more likely to use the phrase 'to tame' rather than isolate the virus," she explained.

The clinical samples of suspected cases were measured in microliters and were non-renewable, said Ren.

"If the virus can passage stably after isolation, as a sustainable resource, it will become 'alive'," she added. The follow-up research must enable the virus to grow and passage in the laboratory.

"The samples had been frozen and thawed several times before they arrived at the laboratory, which had a great impact on the integrity of the virus particles and the efficiency of the virus entering the cell, thus affecting the virus isolation," Ren explained.

Repeated freezing and thawing makes it difficult for the virus to proliferate. "We must operate in the third level of biosafety with inclined tubes specially used to reduce the inoculation amount and single tubes to avoid cross-infection," she said.

A few days after the sample is inoculated with cells, the cells show pathological effects, which indicates the virus has begun to replicate on them.

Ren's team is still continuously optimizing virus detection methods and tracking virus variation.

They used genetic engineering technology to express and purify the virus antigen, and developed a serum antibody detection reagent, of which the chemiluminescence method is being applied for national approval to assist clinical diagnosis.

The novel coronavirus will be preserved allowing enterprises or scientists to use it in the future, Ren said.

"The preservation institutions recognized by the international academic community will carefully register the virus seed with its name, genome characteristics, titer and culture system recorded," said Ren.

"The novel coronavirus was isolated first by the Chinese experts, and we can use it as a template to perfect the standardization process."