HEALTH: Texas Biomed establishes team to study SARS-CoV-2, new coronavirus

Texas Biomedical Research Institute

Scientists at Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) are ramping up to begin work on the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. A team consisting of leading virologists, microbiologists, high containment lab experts and animal modeling researchers are proposing several research projects to 1) establish a nonhuman primate (monkey) model to study the pathogenesis and transmission as well as develop countermeasures; 2) test detection methods, including a project involving optofluidic chips, which screens specimens for the virus and determine stage; and 3) partner with other local and national scientists and clinicians on projects to identify potential therapies and vaccines for the virus.

The Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) is a national resource for scientists aiming to create primate models for disease, which are necessary to test diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. Professor Luis Giavedoni, Ph.D., who also leads Texas Biomed’s Biology Core, is the principal investigator on a pilot project to identify a novel model for testing SARS-CoV-2.

“We hope to start work on the development of a nonhuman primate model for the disease in a month or so,” Dr. Giavedoni said. “We have submitted a pilot project application through the SNPRC. We still have several steps before we can start work, such as regulatory approvals and setting up work in the Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) laboratory, but we have all the pieces in place to ramp up quickly.”

Texas Biomed virologist and Professor Jean Patterson, Ph.D. will lead a pilot project with collaborators nationally on a possible detection method for the virus.

“We’re using expertise as well as the technology and processes we developed through SARS, Zika and even the Ebola outbreaks and applying them to the coronavirus,” Dr. Patterson said. “The need to study this virus is heightened because of the rapidity of infection.”

According to Dr. Patterson, SARS-CoV-2 is 80% identical to SARS, which is a high comparison due to SARS-CoV-2 being a novel virus.  It’s also ten times more infectious than its predecessor even though it has about a 2% mortality rate.

BSL3 lab photo
Scientist working in Texas Biomed’s BSL3 lab. Photo credit: www.joshhuskin.com

Texas Biomed recently built a new 7,500 sq. ft. BSL-3 laboratory, which is the minimum requirement by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) to begin research on this new virus. In addition to  Professors Luis Giavedoni and Jean Patterson, other members of the Texas Biomed’s Coronavirus Pilot Project team include Professor Ricardo Carrion, Ph.D., who is Director of Contract Research for the BSL-4 laboratory and an expert on developing animal models; Professor Luis Martinez-Sobrido, Ph.D., a virologist with expertise in virus development; Professor Deepak Kaushal, Ph.D., who is the Director of the SNPRC; Professor Jordi B. Torrelles, Ph.D., a microbiologist/cell biologist and Director of the BSL-3 laboratory; and Marcos I. Restrepo, MD, MSc, PhD – South Texas Veterans Health Care System and UT Health San Antonio.Texas Biomed, 

Texas Biomed is one of the world’s leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to eradicating infection and advancing health worldwide through innovative biomedical research. Texas Biomed partners with researchers and institutions around the world to develop vaccines and therapeutics against viral pathogens causing AIDS, hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, tuberculosis and parasitic diseases responsible for malaria and schistosomiasis disease. The Institute has programs in host-pathogen interaction, disease intervention and prevention, and population health to understand the links between infectious diseases and other diseases such as aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. For more information on Texas Biomed, go to www.TxBiomed.org.

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