Research into the long-term effects of coronavirus and potential links between the disease and unborn babies has received a funding boost from the Victorian government.
Innovation and Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford on Thursday announced $2.3 million for the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute-led “Impact of COVID-19 on Organs” project.
The funds will help 40 scientists from four institutions investigate cellular mechanisms leading to “long COVID” issues such as fatigue, cognitive difficulties and ongoing breathing problems.
They will also analyse variants from Brazil, India and the United Kingdom to understand the impact of the more infectious strains on the major human organs.
Professor Melissa Little from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and her team are using human tissues created from stem cells for the project.
“We can infect these with the virus that causes COVID-19 and that allows us to actually look at exactly what cells are being affected by the virus, and better understand exactly what’s going on in the model of human tissue without actually having a human in the laboratory,” she told reporters on Thursday.
She said the team had already identified issues with the heart as a result of the virus disrupting oxygen supply.
The funding will also allow researchers to gain greater insight into the potential transfer of coronavirus to unborn babies, as well as the effects of the virus on placenta.
“What we understand now is that there’s no link between COVID-19 and pregnancy complications or disease, but we have been building these very complicated models and we have a model placenta, and we have some evidence that it can affect (it),” Prof Little said.
“It’s very important for us to investigate that further, because it may be that a variant arises that has additional impact.”
The money for the study has been allocated from the state government’s $31 million COVID-19 research fund.
Ms Pulford said Victoria is home to 14 independent medical research institutes, which employ more than 5800 people.
The sector supports more than 30,000 jobs across institutes, universities and industry.
“Victoria is one of the few places in the world where research has been able to continue over the past 12 months, thanks to the work everyone has done to get on top of this wildly infectious virus,” Ms Pulford said in a statement.
“The knowledge we’re building will help people now and for generations to come.”
It comes as Victoria has gone a 55th consecutive day without a locally-acquired case of coronavirus, following 13,951 tests.
There were two new cases in hotel quarantine, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 19.
The Health Department said six close contacts linked to a possible COVID-19 transmission event at a Sydney quarantine hotel have been identified, as well as a person from a Perth hotel where two cases of transmission were confirmed on Wednesday.
All have been tested and will need to quarantine for 14 days
Victorians who live in or have visited the Daylesford area from April 10-12 or the Benalla area from April 10-15 have also been urged to stay alert for COVID-19 symptoms after the virus was detected in wastewater.
Meanwhile, more than 4500 Victorians received their COVID-19 vaccine in the 24 hours to Thursday morning.