Coronavirus Breakthrough As 2019-nCoV Is Grown in Lab Outside China for First Time: 'Game Changer'

Scientists in Australia are the first outside China to grow a copy of the new coronavirus that has killed over 100 people, which they hope will boost efforts to tackle it.

The team at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity grew the virus in cell culture after taking a sample from a patient who attended the Royal Melbourne Hospital's Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory on Friday.

Australia is among the countries where the virus has been confirmed in patients. It is thought to have originated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, late last year.

According to an online dashboard run by Johns Hopkins University, a total of 132 people have died—all in mainland China and mainly in Hubei—and 6,057 cases have been confirmed worldwide.

Julian Druce of the The Royal Melbourne Hospital and head of the Virus Identification Laboratory at the Doherty Institute said in a statement: "Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which is helpful for diagnosis, however, having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities—it will be a game changer for diagnosis."

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A woman wearing a face mask passes a sign at Terminal 4 of London Heathrow Airport in the U.K., warning passengers that a new virus has been detected in Wuhan in China, on January 28, 2020. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

The copy will be used by Australia's public health laboratories for what is known as a positive control, to show if a particular treatment is working, and will also be sent to experts working with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe, Druce said.

Mike Catton, deputy director of the Doherty Institute, said in a statement that having a sample of the virus would enable experts to use their arsenal of molecular technology to combat the virus.

The team believes the efforts will help with the creation of an antibody test—which can show if a person's immune system has been activated against the virus, said Catton. According to the information currently available, the WHO believes the virus has an incubation period of between two to 10 days.

"An antibody test will enable us to retrospectively test suspected patients so we can gather a more accurate picture of how widespread the virus is, and consequently, among other things, the true mortality rate," he explained.

"It will also assist in the assessment of effectiveness of trial vaccines. We've planned for an incident like this for many, many years and that's really why we were able to get an answer so quickly," Catton said.

The team also released a video showing the coronavirus in culture.

The team's research is among global efforts from scientists working to gain an understanding of the virus dubbed 2019-nCoV. The virus is a member of the large coronavirus family, which cause a range of conditions from the common cold to more severe infections like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

The virus can cause pneumonia-like symptoms including a fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath and breathing problems.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates where the virus has been detected as of January 27.

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Where the novel coronavirus has been detected around the world as of January 27. Statista