Scientists from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) are beginning to reap the benefits of studying live samples of the coronavirus.
A UWC scientist collaborated with Stellenbosch University in May on a project that saw cell cultures inoculated with SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) samples and grown in a strictly controlled laboratory.
They have now developed protocols for a number of experiments, one of which allows researchers to determine with a fair degree of certainty the number of coronavirus genome copies in a given sample.
The laboratory technique is called a quantitative RT-PCR.
It’s the same test used to detect coronavirus in samples obtained from a patient, but in this instance, a sample of a known amount of virus RNA is added as a control.
“It can give you, for example, a ballpark figure of whether you’re in the peak of your infection or just at the beginning,” said Dr Tasnim Suliman.
As UWC post-doctoral research fellow, Dr Suliman explained that the aim of the research is not to find a vaccine or cure for COVID-19, but it provides the scientific basis from which such work can be conducted.
“We’ve moved on from step one, we have finished cultivating the virus. We have a fair idea of how this works… we’re just assessing the limits of some parameters, for example, how long we need to wait before we harvest the virus for such an experiment. Those things are a little bit tricky to fine-tune, so basically we’re fine-tuning some of the work that we’ve already done,” she said.
Another benefit of this work is that medical virologists can detect at which rate a virus sample is growing.