Tulane University National Primate Research Center working up COVID-19 infection testing

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Photo credit Tulane University Photo

The Tulane University National Primate Research Center on the Northshore received live COVID-19 coronavirus samples last month and is about to enter the startup phase for testing on primates. 

“We should infect animals in about a month, that’s the next step,” Says Chief Veterinary Medical Officer Dr. Skip Bohm.  “It should probably take about three weeks to complete and then the analysis of the data could take weeks to months to finalize that.”

Research on live primates can’t be rushed.  It involves developing an animal model, an involved search of a primate species which can simulate a human being’s immune-response system to the introduction of a virus. 

Dr. Bohm says his team has two species candidates: “In our case, we’re going to be using African Green Monkey’s because they showed promise as a model and the Rhesus Monkey because we know a lot about them, and in infectious disease models they are commonly used, they are the pre-imminent model for HIV and we know a lot about their immune response.”

Describing the infection test, Dr. Bohm explains: “We expose the animals and then we follow them out over time, collecting various samples of fluids and tissue biopsies, at the end of the study, we remove the animals from the study and perform a [post mortem] tissue collection.”

This kind of research takes a lot of time according to Dr. Bohm: “It’s stringent and well thought out, there’s a lot of oversight on it,” he says.  “And that enhances our ability to produce quality treatments and vaccines that are safe.” 

“Once that infection model is characterized, then we can test those vaccines from any number of different companies,” Dr. Bohm says. 

COVID-19 is a coronavirus.  SARS and MERS were also coronaviruses.  Dr. Bohm says this particular strain has been identified and is being examined.  “The virus can undergo mutations, especially after its infected people, but it is not thought that it is mutating very widely like HIV, but that’s yet to be seen.  They’re talking about one strain of coronavirus causing this health crisis at this one point.”