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Otago Biochemists investigate effects of coronavirus on brain cells

Monday 8 June 2020 12:20pm

A cartoon of a neuron surrounded by coronavirus particles (not drawn to scale).

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, sufferers of the disease are reporting a variety of unusual symptoms, well beyond the expected problems with the lungs. Reported symptoms related to the brain and nervous system, such as dizziness, headache, seizures, and risk of stroke have motivated a trio of scientists here at Otago to investigate further.

Dr Indranil Basak and Dr Lucia Schweitzer from the Department of Biochemistry and Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology successfully applied to the Brain Health Research Centre for funding to find out what happens to brain cells infected with coronavirus in the lab.

Dr Basak and Dr Schweitzer have already established a way of growing brain cells, or neurons, in the lab from 'induced pluripotent stem cells' cultured in plates.

They plan to infect these cells with strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease, in Professor Quiñones-Mateu's laboratory. The researchers will then observe how toxic the viral infection is to the workings inside the cells, and look for changes in the proteins found in the cells.

Results from this study will become the basis for more comprehensive research into the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on the nervous system.

Indranil Lucia Miguel_650
From left, Dr Indranil Basak and Dr Lucia Schweitzer from the Department of Biochemistry, and Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.