Developing Australasia’s serological capability for viral haemorrhagic fevers
What does this project mean for future pandemics?
- Amplifying viral genetic material from human samples can give rapid diagnosis of infections but might not work if the virus is present in low quantities, or no longer present, especially later in the course of an infection.
- Testing blood for human antibodies against the virus (serology) provides another way of diagnosing people who are infected and those who have been infected in the past.
- Globally, the ability to do serological testing for some of the most dangerous haemorrhagic fever viruses (such as Ebola, Lassa and Marburg viruses) is extremely limited.
- This lack of serological tests for dangerous viruses is because: 1) commercial tests are few; 2) obtaining human samples to validate the effectiveness of new tests is difficult; and 3) developing serological tests generally requires culture of dangerous viruses, requiring biosafety facilities of the highest containment level (biosafety level 4 – BSL4), and involving some hazard for involved staff.
- To overcome these barriers, this project employs a method for developing serological tests that can be used at lower biosafety levels (BSL2) – the method develops so-called ‘virus-like particles’ that do not contain viral genetic material, are not infectious, and are therefore safer to use.
- The method will be tested first using Ross River virus, with this step having the added advantage of potentially developing a new, more reliable Ross River virus serology test for use in Australia.
- Once proven, the method will then be applied to the haemorrhagic fever viruses to produce, distribute and test serological kits for Ebola, Marburg and Lassa viruses.
Serological test capability for BSL4 pathogens is extremely limited and there is a global need for accessible, cheaper and safer means of developing these tests.
The project’s objectives are to:
- produce and characterise serological assays for the BSL2 Ross River virus as a proof of principle for our approach with BSL4 pathogens
- use recombinant techniques to engineer, produce, characterise and manipulate virus-like particles (devoid of genetic material) for the haemorrhagic fever viruses – Ebola, Marburg and Lassa viruses.
- use virus-like particles to produce sera in mice for the derivation, optimisation, validation and production of serological neutralisation and immunofluorescence assays.
- provide validated immunofluorescence screening assays and staff training to APPRISE laboratory members.
The project will also:
- enhance collaboration and sharing of samples between APPRISE member reference laboratories and wider APPRISE network members
- improve Australian public health laboratory capacity by encouraging inter-lab sharing and distribution of materials and by involving APPRISE and Public Health Laboratory Network member laboratories in local acceptance testing and assay implementation
- train and expose early- and mid-career infectious diseases researchers to a broad range of molecular and serological techniques to maintain future public health capacity.