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2019-nCoV: In Australia, scientists grow exact copy of coronavirus in a lab


Melbourne, Jan 29: Australian scientists said on Wednesday they have successfully grown the novel coronavirus in a lab, for the first time outside China, a "significant breakthrough" which they say may help combat the deadly virus that has claimed over 130 lives and infected thousands.

The researchers from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity -- a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne hospital -- said the advance will allow accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus globally.

"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," said Julian Druce from The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

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"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 Organization (WHO) in Europe," Druce said in a statement.

Doherty Institute Deputy Director Mike Catton said the possession of a virus isolate extended what could be achieved with molecular technology in the fight against this virus.

The deadly coronavirus has claimed 132 lives and nearly 6,000 infection cases have been reported in China, mainly in the central city of Wuhan. The grown virus is expected to be used to generate an antibody test, which allows detection of the virus in patients who haven't displayed symptoms and were therefore unaware they had the virus, the researchers said.

"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.

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"It will also assist in the assessment of effectiveness of trial vaccines," he said.

The virus was grown from a patient sample that arrived at the Royal Melbourne Hospital's Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute on January 24. "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," Catton said.

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