Former Seymour College student Corey Smith is helping in the fight against COVID-19.
As the head of Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) Berghofer’s translational and human immunology group, Dr Smith and his team are working to discover how the human immune system fights coronavirus – to hopefully develop immunotherapies to treat very sick patients.
The researchers are calling on 50 adults from southeast Queensland, who tested positive to the virus and have subsequently recovered and been released from quarantine, to take part.
Dr Smith said his team would examine how those people’s immune systems had responded to the virus with the end goal of developing a new T cell immunotherapy.
In the next phase of the research, his team hoped to take blood samples from seriously unwell COVID-19 patients in hospital and understand how their T cells were responding to the virus.
“We hope understanding how these cells work in people with different degrees of the disease will ultimately help us develop immune monitoring strategies to determine which patients are more likely to get sick,” he said.
“We also hope it helps us develop an immunotherapy for this virus.
“My colleague and collaborator Professor Rajiv Khanna has already successfully developed T cell immunotherapies targeting viruses, including chronic viral infections in organ transplant recipients.
“Once we understand the immune responses to COVID-19, we hope to use Professor Khanna’s method to develop immunotherapies against it.
“The aim would be to take T cells from donors who have recovered from COVID-19 and turbo charge those T cells in the laboratory to recognise and attack the virus. We hope this approach could save the lives of the sickest patients.”
Dr Smith said the researchers were hopeful an immunotherapy could be developed in six to eight months.
“While a lot of the scientific community is rightly looking to develop a vaccine to stop the spread of COVID-19, we don’t know exactly when one will be available,” he said.
“Even once a vaccine is developed, it’s likely some people will still get the virus, as we see with influenza.
“We want to use our expertise in immunotherapy to help the sickest patients who struggle to fight this virus.
“Emerging research indicates severe COVID-19 is associated with problems in the T cell response, similar to those which occur in other viral diseases in humans.
“If we can develop an effective immunotherapy we can manufacture it here in Brisbane at QIMR Berghofer’s cell therapy manufacturing facility, Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics.
“Fighting this coronavirus is a global effort and we are determined to use our advanced skills in immunotherapy and our manufacturing capacity to help.”
The research is being funded by philanthropic donations, including from Mr Clive Berghofer AM and the Brazil Family Foundation.