West Australian researchers join fight against COVID-19

A major research initiative has been launched in Western Australia to better understand COVID-19 and predict the complex genetic, environmental and lifestyle interactions causing the disease.

Researchers from Murdoch University’s Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC), the South Metropolitan Health Service COVID-19 Response Team and the broader WA healthcare community have launched the major research and diagnostics project.

The ANPC team, led by world-renowned phenomics pioneer and academician Professor Jeremy Nicholson, will improve the identification of disease stratification biomarkers of COVID-19 and assess the effectiveness of treatments as part of a major clinical trials initiative.

The project will see the ANPC working hand-in-hand with Professor Merrilee Needham of Murdoch University and Notre Dame and Professor Toby Richards of the University of Western Australia, who are bringing together the top doctors and researchers from WA through the Western Australian Health Translation Network (WAHTN) for the COVID-19 Response Team.  

By analysing the molecular, physical and biochemical characteristics of blood and urine, researchers at the ANPC aim to predict variation in severity of the disease and understand differential responses to therapeutic interventions.

“Linked to our genomics team led by Professor Mark Watson, we’re setting out to identify specific biomarkers of the disease to figure out who has it, how we can detect it and stratify patients by severity risk and assess the real time patient responses to treatments,” Professor Nicholson said.

“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.”
It is anticipated that all new COVID-19 patients will be consented for testing on admission and later for clinical trials, with the ANPC running the samples from those trials and tests, including longitudinal urine and plasma metabolic monitoring.

"Most importantly the risk of severity of infected patients needs to be assessed rapidly to help guide the clinical pathway.”

Professor Nicholson said, “such was the importance of the research, the ANPC was dedicating 100% of its resources to the COVID-19 fight for at least a year.”

Professor Richards said the Western Australian based research team was in a unique position.

“In WA we are in the second wave and have the opportunity to have prepared for COVID-19. We have built a unique platform in WA to collect patient data and bio samples to enable a thorough understanding of the disease and also response to treatment,” said Professor Richards.
In addition to its world-leading phenomics facility – the ANPC – Murdoch University also has one of the most powerful genomics testing capabilities in Australia.
In response to critical shortages in testing capabilities being witnessed around the world, the scientists within the genomics laboratory have developed a fast, cost-effective test for COVID-19.

Equipped with this test, the genomics facility at Murdoch has now been set up to test up to 1000 patients a day, should State facilities require support.

Murdoch’s genomics and phenomics work on COVID-19 are a continuation of the University’s mission to change lives and solve problems of global significance. 

Learn more on our COVID-19 Critical Research Programme.


About the Australian National Phenome Centre

The Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC), led by Murdoch University, will transform how long and how well people live, not just in Australia, but around the world.

The work of the ANPC supports almost every area of bioscience. It reaches across traditional research silos and fosters a new, more collaborative approach to science. Long-term, the ANPC hopes to build ‘global atlases’ of human disease, providing insights into future health risks which everyone on the planet can benefit from.

The only facility of its kind in the southern hemisphere, the ANPC brings together all five Western Australian universities and leading health and medical research institutes.

It is linked to the International Phenome Centre Network and also has wide applications in agriculture and environmental science.

The ANPC positions Perth and WA as a global leader in precision medicine, and enable quantum leaps in predicting, diagnosing and treating disease.

The ANPC is part of the Health Futures Institute at Murdoch University.

Technology and Partners  

The ANPC is equipped with multiple state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and mass spectrometry (MS) instruments from Bruker Spectrospin and Bruker Daltonics who are ANPC strategic alliance partners.

Bruker is a manufacturer of scientific instruments for molecular and materials research, as well as for industrial and applied analysis.


A person's phenome is a dynamic fingerprint of their unique biology resulting from the complex interactions between environmental and genetic factors.

Phenomics is the study of how the environment and a person’s lifestyle interacts with their genes to influence their health and risk of disease.

Metabolic phenotyping is the analysis of biological tissue and fluid to uncover the specific interactions of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors at a molecular level.
Posted on:

28 Mar 2020

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