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GTA researchers make COVID-19 breakthrough, isolate the virus
March 13, 2020
Kevin McGran

Researchers from Sunnybrook, the University of Toronto and McMaster University in Hamilton have made a key breakthrough in the battle against COVID-19, the deadly virus that is causing a worldwide pandemic.

The team has isolated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (known clinically as SARS-CoV-2), the agent responsible for the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19, the hospital said Thursday night on its website.

The isolated virus will help researchers in Canada and across the world develop better diagnostic testing, treatments and vaccines, and gain a better understanding of the biology and evolution of the virus, the hospital said.

 “We need key tools to develop solutions to this pandemic. While the immediate response is crucial, longer-term solutions come from essential research into this novel virus,” said Dr. Samira Mubareka, a microbiologist and infectious diseases physician at Sunnybrook.

The team -- Dr. Samira Mubareka and Dr. Rob Kozak of Sunnybrook and University of Toronto; Dr. Arinjay Banerjee and Dr. Karen Mossman of McMaster University -- was able to culture the virus from two clinical specimens in a Level 3 containment facility.

“Researchers from these world-class institutions came together in a grassroots way to successfully isolate the virus in just a few short weeks,” said Kozak, a clinical microbiologist at Sunnybrook. “It demonstrates the amazing things that can happen when we collaborate.”

Banerjee, a post-doctoral fellow at McMaster University, said collaboration is the key.

“Now that we have isolated the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we can share this with other researchers and continue this teamwork,” he said. “The more viruses that are made available in this way, the more we can learn, collaborate and share.”