McCusker Foundation joins Murdoch in fight against COVID-19

Professor Elaine Holmes

The McCusker Charitable Foundation has joined the fight against COVID-19 with a major financial contribution to the critical research program being undertaken at the Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC).

The goal of the research program is to better understand COVID-19 and the complex genetic, environmental and lifestyle interactions that give rise to the differential severity of the disease.

Funding from the McCusker Charitable Foundation will be used to establish the ANPC COVID-19 Risk Prediction Unit, expanding the centre's research capacity as the world prepares for the second wave of infections and future viral threats.

“COVID-19 is still a major worldwide threat that is currently only kept at bay by lockdowns,” said Professor Jeremy Nicholson, ANPC Director and Pro Vice Chancellor of the Health Futures Institute.

“Several countries controlled the first wave well, but incomplete testing and physical control resulted in significant second waves of disease spread as seen dramatically in Singapore.”

Led by Professor Nicholson, the ANPC team is studying the detailed biochemistry of COVID-19 that will give insights into why some patients become severely ill and others do not. This will allow health care experts to predict outcomes for individual patients.

“Given that to date no successful vaccine has been produced against the coronavirus family, we might be waiting a long time to get a safe and effective vaccine to treat COVID-19. Furthermore, the longevity of post infection immunity is still unknown, so we must prepare more effectively for the inevitable resurgent waves of the disease,” said Professor Nicholson.

“The best way forward is to develop, or more likely repurpose, anti-viral drugs based on detailed knowledge on how the virus damages the host and why some people are more susceptible than others to severe disease. Our research will establish that deep knowledge of how the virus operates.” 

"This funding will be used to help informatically link metabolic and phenotypic data sets generated by the ANPC and our international research partners in order to drive a harmonised program of biochemical discovery around COVID-19 mechanisms and disease prognostics.”

The grant from the McCusker Charitable Foundation will also expand the team within Murdoch's Centre for Computational and Systems Medicine (CCSM). Led by Professor Elaine Holmes, the CCSM is the data science engine of the critical research program, harnessing the technology of the ANPC to generate deep phenotypic profiles of biological samples.

“Our COVID-19 research will combine multiple metabolic datasets from a range of instruments and sources to create predictive models of disease severity,” said Professor Holmes.

This is complex and highly diverse data that poses challenges in informatic modelling, which is why we’re partnering with the Foundation to grow our team of specialists in this space.”
Those specialists will join Dr Ruey-Leng Loo and Dr Torben Kimhofer on the CCSM team.

Western Australia is positioned to be an important contributor to combating the COVID-19 pandemic threat as it has a world-leading bioanalytical and biomedical modelling capability in the ANPC, located on the Fiona Stanley Hospital campus.

“This is the greatest emergent healthcare challenge on the planet and there is no better equipped metabolic lab in Australia, or possibly anywhere, to undertake this type of investigative work in an excellent clinical and hospital framework.

“Our goal is to deliver real diagnostic and prognostic solutions in an accelerated time-frame.”

The ANPC is closely connected to other major research groups around the world that have aligned analytical capabilities, providing opportunities for diagnostic data sharing and research validation.

Read more on our COVID-19 critical research program.
Posted on:

13 May 2020

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