Collaborative research project announced to inform COVID-19 vaccine

A team of South Australian scientists are joining forces in the fight against COVID-19 to greater inform the local, national and global response efforts, including the creation of a vaccine, thanks to the support of the Women’s & Children’s Hospital Foundation (WCH Foundation).

The group of SA virologists, immunologists and clinicians has been equipped with an initial $75,000 for the WCH Foundation and $150,000 from The Hospital Research Foundation to commence their world-first research.

The findings will help determine if in fact a “super race” does exist – recovered patients who can go back into the community with immunity – and how long the immunity may last.

Senior Virologist Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk from The University of Adelaide and Basil Hetzel Institute* said the team would study the response and recovery of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalised at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) and Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH).

“South Australia is in a unique position to do this with a first-world health system, excellent research capabilities and, if we can act quickly, the possibility to track the virus and the population from an early point in the infection cycle,” Dr Grubor-Bauk said.

“We will be evaluating the virology and immune responses of hospitalised adult and child patients from symptomology through to recovery and ultimately for a further 12 months.

“This knowledge will inform what part of the virus a vaccine should target and what kind of response is required to be protected. It will be a high impact study of global reach to drive treatment and vaccine design.”

To do this, the team will assess the COVID-19 disease profile in:

  • all children and pregnant women presenting at the WCH
  • critically ill patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the RAH
  • moderately ill patients in the RAH Infectious Diseases Ward
  • recovered patients that have been released as “COVID-19 free”

Immunologist Professor Simon Barry, who is leading the paediatric and pregnancy arm of the study, from The University of Adelaide and WCH said the study would help determine why there was such a broad range of symptoms experienced from the same virus.

“There’s an awful lot we don’t know about why some people are asymptomatic, why some people get very sick and why some people get moderately sick. We are looking to build up a very high-resolution picture of how people’s immune systems respond to the virus and why,” Prof Barry said.

“For example, what’s different in children? Some reports have suggested that children don’t get as sick. While that’s not always true, if it is occurring in some cases, what is it about a young person’s immune system that’s working differently to an adult’s?

“These sorts of studies are great for understanding the disease response,  but we also want it to have an impact, for example can we use this immunology to help test  if a vaccine works better and lasts longer for all the children, mums and adults of South Australia.”

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Jane Scotcher, CEO of the WCH Foundation
, is proud to be part of this collaborative research project.

“As the leading charity for maternal and paediatric health in the state, thanks to our donors we ensure that women and children have access to the very best medical care,” Jane said.

“This research project will play a vital part in enabling positive health outcomes for women and children during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as their families and loved ones.

“Everyone is impacted by COVID-19 and we all have an important part to play in the response to the pandemic. Our partnership with The Hospital Research Foundation and the researchers demonstrates this.”

The WCH Foundation is funding world-class research that will help to create a vaccine for COVID-19.

Professor Simon Barry, Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk from The University of Adelaide and Basil Hetzel Institute, and Associate Professor Michael Beard are working together in the collaborative research COVID-19 project.

Dr Benjamin Reddi, Clinical Lead at the RAH ICU, said the team’s findings would be critical to current patient treatments as well as local, national and global efforts to develop a vaccine.

“COVID-19 is thought to be up to 30 times more deadly than influenza with no effective cure available. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that most people recover after developing only mild symptoms,” Dr Reddi said.

“We can learn from those who recover what their new immunity looks like, so in the future we can work out how to promote widespread protective immunity against COVID-19.”

This project has only been made possible thanks to a unique state-wide collaboration between virologists, immunologists, clinicians, health networks and South Australian charities which have come together in just a matter of weeks to provide their support to the lifesaving work.

The collaborations include:

  • Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk who is leading the adult COVID-19 project, working with Dr Benjamin Reddi and Dr Chuan Kok Lim at the RAH ICU and Dr David Shaw at the RAH Infectious Diseases Ward
  • Professor Simon Barry who is leading the paediatric and pregnancy arm of the study at the WCH
  • Associate Professor Michael Beard from The University of Adelaide who is leading the virological aspects of the project
  • Professor Guy Maddern and Jessica Reid who are leading the clinical trial coordination at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital
  • The Research Office of the Central Adelaide Local Health Network and Human Research Ethics Committee of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Network which are overseeing governance

LEARN MORE about how the WCH Foundation is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

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