Cracking the COVID-19 immunity code

Monash University’s Dr James McMahon, an infectious disease expert and hospital clinician at The Alfred and Monash Health, is leading the development of a biobank aimed at cracking the immunity code of COVID-19.

The biobank enables the collection of clinical information along with blood and respiratory swabs from COVID-19 patients in Melbourne to be thoroughly tested to establish how the virus behaves in different people.

“We established the biobank and connected with different research groups – many within Monash and also at the Burnet Institute, including immunologists, virologists  and also other clinicians. Essentially you collect repeated samples from infected patients while they are unwell and also after they have recovered to study the virus and how the immune system is responding to understand why some patients do well and others do not,” Dr McMahon said.

“It became clear that individuals were having different responses to this virus,” he says. “Much of that was to do with age and also people with other medical conditions and compromised immune systems. But we were seeing severe cases alongside mild cases and were interested in exploring why that was happening,” Dr McMahon said.

The biobank is funded by a $250,000 grant from Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in Melbourne.  The funding also facilitates an extension of clinical studies underway for influenza research. Dr McMahon said this is important as we approach winter, as there are concerns that COVID-19 and influenza will overlap to some degree.

Chief Executive Officer Dr Catherine Brown OAM said Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation recognised the urgent need to pay for medical research with a treatment focus at this crucial time.

“The Alfred's Department of Infectious Diseases is one of the largest and most comprehensive infectious disease clinical services in Australia,” Dr Brown said.

“They are in an excellent position to translate medical research into clinical practice and we are very pleased to support Alfred Health during this health crisis.”

Findings from the study will be shared nationally and internationally so that other health organisations can increase their capacity to respond to COVID-19.

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