New COVID-19 research projects funded

5 February 2021
Coronavirus research gets near $1.5m funding boost
Research to improve COVID-19 testing, treat the most at-risk patients and evaluate virtual healthcare in the bush during COVID-19.

University of Sydney researchers have been awarded $1.49 million to embark on new COVID-19 research projects.

The NSW Health Grants, announced on Tuesday 2 February, will fund three new research projects, focused on improving the sensitivity of COVID-19 diagnostic tests, building a cell bank to help treat the sickest COVID-19 patients and evaluating virtual healthcare in rural areas during COVID-19.

Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor Medicine and Health Professor Robyn Ward, congratulated the three Faculty of Medicine and Health academics leading these important projects.

“Our people are at the forefront of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic through the latest science and innovations in clinical care. It is very pleasing to see their collaborative work recognised through the recent NSW Health Grants and I congratulate all involved,” she said.

Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot was one of three Sydney academics to be awarded NSW Health grants for COVID-19 research.

Improving COVID testing

Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot, who is also a member of the Brain and Mind Centre, will lead a $567,000 project to improve COVID-19 testing. The team aims to produce a test that is more sensitive and can detect low levels of the virus in just one day, rather than the five or more days it takes now.

The test will also help reduce false positives in people who have already had the virus; it will be able to detect antibodies that block further COVID-19 re-infections, giving authorities more information on who is still infectious.

Cell bank to treat most at-risk patients

Associate Professor Emily Blyth will spearhead a $423,000 project to create a cell bank at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research of coronavirus immune cells that will be available for high-risk COVID-19 infected patients, should community transmission rise in the future.

Immune cells that are responsible for controlling the virus will be collected, purified and cryopreserved from healthy blood donors who have had COVID-19 and recovered. 

Virtual healthcare in the bush

Professor Andrew Wilson, Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy and a member of the Charles Perkins Centre, will work with Dr Shannon Nott, Rural Health Director of Medical Services for Western NSW Local Health District, on a $500,000 project to evaluate whether a new rural telehealth service rolled out last year was effective in a COVID-19 environment.

The service supported people living in Western NSW, from Dubbo and Orange, to Lightning Ridge and Bourke, who don’t have a regular doctor in their community, or where local doctors required additional support.

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