Stem cell project aims to better understand impact of COVID-19 on different organs

The Victorian Government announced an investment into Melbourne-based stem cell projects, to understand the short and long-term impact of COVID-19 on different organs.

Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford recently announced the stem cell initiative, which will be supported through the Victorian government’s COVID-19 Research Fund. Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, will use stem cells to create models of different organs, to better understand the effects of COVID-19.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) Theme Director of Cell Biology Professor Melissa Little said the project team would use human stem cells to create models of complex organ tissue, to better understand the virus’s effects on different organ systems including the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain, immune system and blood vessels, to support the development of targeted treatments

Professor Little said the research team’s ability to combine different cell types would allow them to investigate how the virus spreads in organs and how infected cells respond to each other.

“There is growing evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can damage organs beyond lungs, including the heart, blood vessels, immune cells, kidney and even brain tissue. But a limited understanding of the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on such tissues limits our capacity to treat patients in the most appropriate way and anticipate long-term complications,” she said.

“This collaborative program will increase our understanding of disease pathology, identify underlying risk factors, change clinical care to protect the patient from severe complications, facilitate the development of targeted treatment options and better prepare us for the next pandemic.”

This investment follows a recent announcement from the Federal Government, to support a project to create human stem cell-based models of the heart to understand the effects of COVID19. Associate Professor Enzo Porrello, who heads MCRI’s Heart Regeneration laboratory, will collaborate with University of Melbourne Professor Kanta Subbarao at the Doherty Institute and researchers at QIMR Berghofer on this research. The team will infect heart tissue grown in a dish with SARS-CoV-2 and begin the intensive process of screening and validating drug candidates.

Associate Professor Enzo Porrello and Professor Melissa Little are members of the Centre for Stem Cell Systems.


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Professor Melissa Little