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University researchers in Belfast have been awarded a grant to find a Covid-19 treatment

The funding grant has been awarded as one of several projects that will receive part of a €21.5 million fund.

Image: Shutterstock/siam.pukkato

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY BELFAST has been awarded a €315,000 grant in a bid to find a vaccine for coronavirus.

The funding grant has been awarded as one of several projects that will receive part of a €21.5 million fund bankrolled by the UK Research and Innovation, and by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Queen’s lead researcher Ultan Power is a Professor of Molecular Virology at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine.

He said: “The thousands of deaths caused by coronavirus have been as a result of how the virus attacks the respiratory system, both directly and through stimulating violent immune responses. 

“Our expertise in this area, coupled with the state-of-art models of lung tissue infection in my laboratory enable us to explore in detail how respiratory viruses cause disease. This puts us in a unique position to find an urgently needed treatment.

“Developing new drugs can take a long time and is very expensive. When facing a pandemic, it is crucial that we find treatment options as soon as possible. Our research approach will focus on drugs that are already approved for human use to see whether they can be repurposed to fight Covid-19.”

Professor Power is an internationally eminent virologist whose career has focused on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the leading cause of severe bronchiolitis in young infants and a major cause of severe lung disease in the elderly and immunocompromised.

Power and his team of researchers will direct their expertise to screen existing drugs for activity against the virus.

The research will screen drugs currently approved for human use, including a number of drugs used to treat respiratory diseases, antivirals, and drugs which affect the immune system. 

The drugs will be applied to the SARS-CoV-2-infected cells to determine whether they are effective in killing the coronavirus or dampening down the violent immune responses that cause lots of damage to the lung tissues.

Queen’s University has a long history in researching viruses, developing diagnostics and finding treatments and vaccines. This includes common respiratory viruses, such as RSV, rhinoviruses, measles virus, and mumps virus.

Professor Stuart Elborn, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences and lung infection expert said: “Queen’s University has a wealth of research expertise in a range of viral diseases, from understanding how viruses spread to how they affect our immune system as well as leading clinical trials and developing treatments and vaccines. We will harness this knowledge and apply our expertise and learning to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Yesterday evening, the Department of Health said another 219 people had been diagnosed with Covid-19 in Ireland. In Northern Ireland, another 20 cases were confirmed yesterday, bringing the total there to 148.

About the author:

Sarah Slater

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