MWC network plays key role in national response to COVID-19 pandemic
Investigators from across the Centre have been instrumental in developing the tools necessary to track and trace the virus, informing public health policy and measuring the ongoing effects of SARS-2-COV in Aotearoa New Zealand.
MWC investigators worked to develop and support the core science behind techniques to test and track the spread of COVID-19 in Aotearoa. Across the country our investigators have adapted their research streams and take on additional roles to combat the pandemic. Investigators of all levels have and continue to support this vital work, with PhD candidate Sandra Fitzgerald even pausing her studies to run diagnostic RT-PCR tests during the height of the pandemic.
Rapid viral genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 is another key element of the national response1 supported by the MWC network. The technology has been used throughout the pandemic, together with epidemiological and modeling data, and geographic information to track the spread of the virus in Aotearoa. MWC Associate Investigator (AI) Dr Jemma Geoghegan has had a leading role in this work. Alongside genomic tracing, MWC AI Dr Joanne Hewitt worked together with colleagues at ESR to implement the use of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)2 to identify and observe COVID-19 in the community. The technique has proved to be an effective way of detecting cases and have informed the Government’s localised pandemic response.
The vast range of MWC expertise was also put to use with investigators at the University of Otago developing the means to diagnose, isolate, and grow SARS-CoV-2 in the lab early on in the pandemic. At the University of Auckland, researchers using multiplex bead-based immunoassays were able to adapt the technique to carry out serological assays3,4 to detect COVID-19 antibodies in patient sera. This expertise was developed in the Centre by Alana Whitcombe (PhD candidate) and Associate Professor Nikki Moreland who were funded by MWC in 2019 to visit Telethon Kids Institute at the Perth Children’s Hospital (Australia). This effective sharing of knowledge and skills highlights the MWC’s role in equipping NZ scientists to tackle the latest health challenges.
MWC acknowledges the immense value of our investigator network, and the ability of the NZ STEM community, to adapt quickly and work collaboratively as a key success factor in the fight against COVID-195. Far from slowing down, the MWC community has continued to contribute to COVID-19 research in various fields. Ongoing studies to detect antibody persistence from COVID-19 infection were presented at the MWC Symposium in February 20214, and a nationwide serosurvey of 10,000 blood donors was completed to estimate the prevalence of antibodies6. MWC virologist Professor Miguel Quinones-Mateu has also partnered up with chemists at the Ferrier Institute (VUW) to screen known anti-viral compounds against COVID-19.
Further to this, Immunologist Dr Anna Brooks (MWC AI) is working with the community, having identified the need to carry out studies into the effects of “Long-COVID” in Aotearoa. Anna continues to act as a voice7 for Long-COVID sufferers and has used MWC seed funding to start preliminary investigations, and to secure funding for future research. MWC commends and celebrates the hard work and initiative shown by all of our investigators, and Aotearoa New Zealand’s scientific community, who continue to contribute to this very important response.
1. Geoghegan.J et al (2020) Nat Comm 11: 6351
2. Hewitt.J et al (2021) Preprint medrxiv, 21258577v1
3. McGregor.R et al (2020) PeerJ 8: e9863
4. Whitcombe, A. L. et al. (2021) Clin. Transl. Immunol. 10:e1261
5. Le Gros.G et al (2021) Nat Immunol 22:262–263
6. Carlton LH et al (2021), Epidemiol. Infect. 149: E173
7. sciencemediacentre.co.nz (April 2021), “Long COVID in New Zealand – Expert Q&A”
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