The COVID-19 global pandemic is an unprecedented health emergency.
QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute was established 75 years ago to research terrible infectious and tropical diseases plaguing Queensland. Armed with this history and knowledge, our Institute has joined the quest to better understand and treat coronavirus.
Our scientists are leveraging the Institute’s expertise in infectious diseases, chronic diseases and cancer research to focus on developing much-needed treatments and rapid diagnostic tools for COVID-19.
The wide-ranging program includes:
We will set up a high-level biocontainment testing facility at QIMR Berghofer to allow evaluation of potential new drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and clinical interventions to find potential solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic. We will use this facility for many of the projects described below, as well as establishing whether virus can be transferred from mother to new-born babies.
A randomised controlled trial of tocilizumab, a drug used to reduce the adverse effects of inflammation, in critically ill patients with COVID-19. We will endeavour to enrol 190 patients from intensive care units in Brisbane, and will determine if tocilizumab can rescue patients.
A way to test treatments for coronavirus infection in clinical trials. We will do this by developing a way to deliberately infect healthy volunteers with a coronavirus that is different from the one causing the current pandemic and only causes mild symptoms similar to the common cold.
Doctors have no way of knowing what will happen to the person just diagnosed with COVID-19 – will they have mild symptoms or will they need ICU and potentially die? We will investigate whether we can predict the outcome of COVID-19 based on either a throat swab, a blood test or a urine test. If we can identify a “prognostic test”, many individuals can be safely isolated at home, relieving the intense pressure on the health system and individuals who the test predicts will become very unwell. We will also develop a repository of samples from patients with COVID-19 that can be used in a range of research projects.
Control of all viral infections in humans is dependent on the role of white blood cells called T cells. In this study, we will define T cell responses in both sick and recovered individuals. This work will provide a comprehensive understanding of the immune factors that make some people more susceptible to severe COVID-19 symptoms and will help to establish how people become immune to reinfection.
We will examine how COVID-19 damages the heart by growing heart organoids is the laboratory and screening for drugs to limit heart injury in COVID-19 patients.
We will test existing, widely used, and safe drugs to (i) reduce COVID-19’s ability to infect cells and (ii) help the immune system fight the disease.
We will determine the way people with blood cancers respond to COVID-19. Blood cancer treatments target immune cells that make antibodies to fight viruses. As COVID-19 is a new virus, it will allow us to understand how cancer treatment affects viral immunity and how to better treat infected blood cancer patients.
Why do some people contract COVID-19 and others not, some seriously affected and others only mildly? Collecting information on COVID-19 from 80,000 Australians and people around the wordw for whom we already have detailed genetic data will enable us to rapidly and efficiently identify genetic risk factors that might fast-track targets for drug development.
The Institute has several clinician-scientists with expertise in treating infectious diseases who will play a key role in the Institute’s research efforts.
Working at the coal-face of Queensland hospitals gives our clinician-researchers the opportunity to collect patient samples that can be tested in our laboratories. This research is part of a worldwide effort to understand how this disease works.
We are collaborating with many of Australia’s hospitals, universities and research institutes such as the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Prince Charles Hospital, UQ Centre for Clinical Research, Peter Doherty Institute, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, QUT, University of Sydney and James Cook University.
The breadth and depth of research at QIMR Berghofer, the quality of our facilities and history of the Institute makes us ideal to lead this response. Today we have one of the most advanced and secure biosecurity laboratories in Queensland, specifically designed to safely research deadly viruses like COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. The research projects being undertaken are wide reaching in their approach. We need to understand who is most susceptible to this disease, why some people are affected very seriously while others are not, find drugs that prevent people getting the disease and develop a vaccine and effective treatments for those who contract coronavirus.
The initial $1 million funding was received from the Institute’s benefactor Clive Berghofer. This, and a further $200,000 from the Brazil Family Foundation has allowed us to set up a wide-ranging research program into COVID-19. However, these funds are not enough to fast track and complete each of the 14 current priority research projects. To enable this vital research to continue, QIMR Berghofer has launched a COVID-19 Research Appeal. Funds received from our donors will only help us expand and accelerate our work in the fight against COVID-19.
We understand that the effects of COVID-19 has hit many people hard, both because of illness and due to the devastating impact on employment. We are asking for help only from those who are able to do so. This allows us to support the global effort to better understand and treat this terrible disease.
Donations can be made via phone or via our online donation form. Our toll free number is 1800 993 000. You may reach our message bank and in these busy times, please leave your name and number and one of our fundraising staff will call you back as soon as they can. Please visit our donation page for other methods to donate. We are so very grateful for donations in what we know is an extremely challenging time for so many Australians.
People can reduce the spread of any coronavirus disease by practicing good hygiene – such as hand washing, avoiding touching surfaces others have touched, avoiding touching their face, preventing the spread of virus-containing droplets by sneezing or coughing into your elbow, and avoiding contact with people who may have a coronavirus disease (including those in quarantine).
Social distancing is also a very important part of stopping the spread. People should remain home except in cases it is essential they go out. When you do go out, you should stay at least 1.5 metres or two arm’s length away from another person.
It appears the COVID-19 virus can survive for several hours outside the body – meaning it can be transmitted by touching an infected surface and then touching your face.
There is currently no vaccine or other therapy that protects people against COVID-19.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly being updated. Your local health department can provide information most relevant to your situation. Please note that we are unable to provide medical advice to individuals.
Sources of accurate information include: