Coronavirus cell culture to make vaccines and test drugs at CCMB

Hyderabad: CCMB’s ability to culture the virus in the lab has enabled it to work towards vaccine development and testing potential drugs to fight COVID-19. 

It also makes CCMB a potential donor of the culture to other authorized centres that can continue growing the virus for their own use said Director CCMB Rakesh Mishra. 

Using the Vero cell lines to grow the coronavirus, CCMB is now in a position to isolate and maintain viral strains from different regions. 

Dr. RakeshMishra Director CCMB said “We are working towards producing viruses in huge quantities that can be inactivated, and used in vaccine development and antibody production for therapeutic purposes. We have also started testing potential drugs with other partners such as DRDO using this viral culture. We hope that such systems are replicated at multiple research institutes and private companies to become a useful resource in the fight against this pandemic as well as for future preparedness” he added.

Over the last month and a half, CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) has established stable cultures of COVID-19 causing coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 from patients’ samples.

A team of researchers led by the Virologist in CCMB, Dr. Krishnan H Harshan have isolated infectious viruses from several isolates. The ability to culture the virus in lab enables CCMB to work towards vaccine development and testing potential drugs to fight COVID-19. It also makes them a potential donor of the culture to other authorized centres that can continue growing the virus for their own use. 

Viruses growing as white translucent plaques among blue live Vero cells.

This virus is known to infect epithelial cells in the human respiratory tract. The viruses infect these cells by interacting with receptor proteins called the ACE-2 following which the virus is internalized by a process namely endocytosis.

Virus RNA is later released into the cytoplasm of the cells where it makes viral proteins first and then starts to replicate the genomic RNA. Thus, the virus uses resources from these cells to make more copies of itself. 

Therefore the virus needs a set of host factors that allow it to replicate. “Currently, primary epithelial cells generated from human origins do not grow for many generations in labs, which is key to culturing viruses continuously. And hence, CCMB and other labs who are growing the virus need an ‘immortal’ cell line”, says Dr. Krishnan.

They use Vero cells – kidney epithelial cell lines from green African monkeys, which express ACE-2 proteins and carry a mutation that allows them to proliferate indefinitely. 

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