COVID-19 research funding boosts Sydney-led projects

27 April 2020
Researchers from the University of Sydney lead several projects recently announced by the Australian Government as part of its national coordinated COVID-19 research response.

Announced this month by the Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, the funding is aimed at supporting frontline health workers with training and information to support the treatment of coronavirus patients.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison said University of Sydney researchers were leading the way in the global effort to combat the pandemic. “From basic science to rolling out programs that will inform clinical and public health responses, our researchers, staff and students are doing what they can to make a difference during this difficult time.”

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health, Professor Robyn Ward said: “Our research at the frontline includes innovative work in the start-up DetectED-X - which has engaged clinicians from 85 countries - and advising governments.”

World-first tool to improve COVID-19 diagnosis

Professor Patrick Brennan from the School of Health Sciences and Professor Stuart Grieve from the Charles Perkins Centre and School of Health Sciences, have been awarded $1.042 million from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to transform the treatment and management of patients with severe coronavirus to deliver better patient outcomes.

The funding will ramp-up machine learning for more complex cases in DetectED-X’s CovED platform, launched last month by the University.

CovED uses artificial intelligence to support frontline health workers using CT scans to quickly and more accurately assess the appearances of coronavirus in patients who are having difficulty breathing.

This project will be delivered through a consortium led by DetectED-X and the coronavirus Image Biobank, with support from iCoreLab and a large consortium of University of Sydney and clinical experts.

The new web-based technology will allow clinicians to rapidly upgrade their skills in diagnosing and managing patients with severe coronavirus through CT scans.

Professor Patrick Brennan said: “This will be immediately crucial in rural areas or developing countries, where numbers of radiologists are often insufficient – our tests will help people not only assess COVID-19 but also identify potentially life-threatening cases wherever they are."

Recently in an announcement by Massachusetts General Hospital, DetectED-X’s CovED was listed as a success story in using web-based imaging platforms for COVID-19 related projects.

APPRISE projects

The National Health and Medical Research Council awarded $2 million in additional funding to the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE) Centre of Research Excellence, to understand prevalence, improve diagnostic tests and develop innovative tools that limit transmission of the pandemic coronavirus.

University of Sydney researchers will lead two of the nine critical projects receiving funding through APPRISE, an Australia-wide network of more than 50 investigators and 13 research institutions from every state and territory.

Improving communication around prevention and control measures

Professor Lyn Gilbert of the University’s Marie Bashir Institute, Sydney Health Ethics and Westmead Institute for Medical Research is lead investigator on a qualitative study aimed at better understanding stakeholder beliefs, attitudes and responses to COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures.

Professor Gilbert envisages that the project will result in improved communication strategies leading to more positive responses and compliance by frontline carers, during COVID-19 and other such public health emergencies.

Understanding the number of people in Australia infected by the COVID-19 virus

Professor Kristine Macartney of the University of Sydney and National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) will co-lead a sero-surveillance project with Professor John Kaldor of the Kirby Institute to understand population immunity to the novel coronavirus. This will help inform clinical and public health responses.

Sero-surveillance programs use blood samples to measure the presence of antibodies in a population. This project will examine blood taken from thousands of people of all ages to determine the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Australia during and following the initial wave of community transmission.

This work will also be vital in determining the prevalence in vulnerable populations such as the elderly. It will provide insight into what level of infection has been occurring above and beyond, for example in people without symptoms, that detected through current testing with a nose/throat swab for the virus.

Professor Macartney and the team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance also recently authored a preliminary report on COVID-19 in NSW schools, finding that that spread has been very limited. Data collection and analysis is ongoing and a full peer-reviewed report is being prepared. Information from this unique report has been used by policymakers across Australia.

View the full list of APPRISE projects on its website.

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