Research News

20 Feb 2020

SARS-CoV-2 Viral Load in Upper Respiratory Specimens of Infected Patients

Malik Peiris, Co-Director at HKU-Pasteur, published in The New England Journal Of Medicine on SARS-CoV-2 viral load in upper respiratory specimens of infected patients: 

>>> Link to the online publication 

The findings provided in this publication are in concordance with reports that transmission may occur early in the course of infection and suggest that case detection and isolation may require strategies different from those required for the control of SARS-CoV.

How SARS-CoV-2 viral load correlates with culturable virus needs to be determined. Identification of patients with few or no symptoms and with modest levels of detectable viral RNA in the oropharynx for at least 5 days suggests that we need better data to determine transmission dynamics and inform our screening practices.


13 Feb 2020

[UPDATED] 2019nCov: List of HKU-Pasteur Research Pole’s Papers on Coronaviruses

Coronaviruses have been at the core of our work at HKU-Pasteur Research Pole since the SARS outbreak in 2003:

>>> Download our list of papers <<<


12 Feb 2020

Chris Mok’s New Publication Enlighten Us About Coronaviruses Mutations

Coronaviruses are a major public health concern, especially right now, in the middle of the “2019nCoV” outbreak. Understanding their mechanism is the core of Chris Mok’s current research. 
The HKU-Pasteur team leader, and his colleagues from the State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University and the Institute of Infectious Disease, just published on the HCoV-NL63 coronavirus that arose in 2018 in Guangzhou. 
They show that a previously innocuous coronavirus, NL63, was mutating and being responsible of severe acute respiratory diseases. Twenty-three hospitalized children were confirmed to be HCoV-NL63 positive, and most of whom were hospitalized with severe pneumonia or acute bronchitis. 
Wang Y, Li X, Liu W, Gan M, Zhang L, Wang J, Zhang Z, Zhu A, Li F, Sun J, Zhang 1, Zhuang Z, Luo J, Chen D, Qiu S, Zhang L, Xu D, Mok CKP, Zhang F, Zhao J, Zhou R, Zhao J
PMID: 31996093 DOI: 10.1080/22221751.2020.1717999

12 Feb 2020

Congratulations To Akhee Sabiha Jahan For The Publication Of Her Thesis!

We are very happy to see Akhee Sabiha Jahan's great work published in Cell Reports after years of effort! Under the supervision of Sumana Sanyal, Akhee's work illustrates the role of deubiquitylases during influenza infection and immune response. 

>>> OTUB1 Is a Key Regulator of RIG-I-Dependent Immune Signaling and Is Targeted for Proteasomal Degradation by Influenza A NS1

Jahan AS, Biquand E, Muñoz-Moreno R, Le Quang A, Mok CK, Wong HH, Teo QW, Valkenburg SA, Chin AWH, Man Poon LL, Te Velthuis A, García-Sastre A, Demeret C, Sanyal S

PMID: 32023470 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.01.015

Deubiquitylases (DUBs) regulate critical signaling pathways at the intersection of host immunity and viral pathogenesis. Although RIG-I activation is heavily dependent on ubiquitylation, systematic analyses of DUBs that regulate this pathway have not been performed. Using a ubiquitin C-terminal electrophile, we profile DUBs that function during influenza A virus (IAV) infection and isolate OTUB1 as a key regulator of RIG-I-dependent antiviral responses. Upon infection, OTUB1 relocalizes from the nucleus to mitochondrial membranes together with RIG-I, viral PB2, and NS1. Its expression depends on competing effects of interferon stimulation and IAV-triggered degradation. OTUB1 activates RIG-I via a dual mechanism of K48 polyubiquitin hydrolysis and formation of an E2-repressive complex with UBCH5c. We reconstitute this mechanism in a cell-free system comprising [35S]IRF3, purified RIG-I, mitochondrial membranes, and cytosol expressing OTUB1 variants. A range of IAV NS1 proteins trigger proteasomal degradation of OTUB1, antagonizing the RIG-I signaling cascade and antiviral responses.

12 Feb 2020

2019nCoV: Malik Peiris and Leo Poon To Publish On Molecular Diagnosis

Malik Peiris, co-director at HKU-Pasteur and Leo Poon, Division of Public Health Laboratory Sciences (HKU), published on a molecular diagnosis of 2019nCoV with colleagues from the School of Public Health (HKU), the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the Beijing Research Center for Preventive Medicine and the School of Public Health, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China. 

>>> Molecular Diagnosis of a Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Causing an Outbreak of Pneumonia

Chu DKW, Pan Y, Cheng SMS, Hui KPY, Krishnan P, Liu Y, Ng DYM, Wan CKC, Yang P, Wang Q, Peiris M, Poon LLM.

PMID: 32031583 DOI: 10.1093/clinchem/hvaa029

BACKGROUND: A novel coronavirus of zoonotic origin (2019-nCoV) has recently been identified in patients with acute respiratory disease. This virus is genetically similar to SARS coronavirus and bat SARS-like coronaviruses. The outbreak was initially detected in Wuhan, a major city of China, but has subsequently been detected in other provinces of China. Travel-associated cases have also been reported in a few other countries. Outbreaks in health care workers indicate human-to-human transmission. Molecular tests for rapid detection of this virus are urgently needed for early identification of infected patients.

METHODS: We developed two 1-step quantitative real-time reverse-transcription PCR assays to detect two different regions (ORF1b and N) of the viral genome. The primer and probe sets were designed to react with this novel coronavirus and its closely related viruses, such as SARS coronavirus. These assays were evaluated using a panel of positive and negative controls. In addition, respiratory specimens from two 2019-nCoV-infected patients were tested.
RESULTS: Using RNA extracted from cells infected by SARS coronavirus as a positive control, these assays were shown to have a dynamic range of at least seven orders of magnitude (2x10-4-2000 TCID50/reaction). Using DNA plasmids as positive standards, the detection limits of these assays were found to be below 10 copies per reaction. All negative control samples were negative in the assays. Samples from two 2019-nCoV-infected patients were positive in the tests.
CONCLUSIONS: The established assays can achieve a rapid detection of 2019n-CoV in human samples, thereby allowing early identification of patients.


10 Feb 2020

Assessment of enhanced influenza vaccination finds that FluAd conveys an advantage in mice and older adults

We are very happy to announce the publication of the paper Assessment of enhanced influenza vaccination finds that FluAd conveys an advantage in mice and older adults by Sophie Valkenburg and her team: Niloufar Kavian, postdoctora fellow, Asmaa Hachim, research assistant, Athena PY Li, PhD student and Carolyn A Cohen, PhD student!

They published it in Clinical & Translational Immunology with Leo Poon, Benjamin Cowling and fellow colleagues from the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

In this randomised clinical trial, we showed that enhanced influenza vaccines boost antibody quality in older adults, and showed a particular advantage of adjuvanted vaccines for long‐term high‐avidity and haemagglutinin‐stalk antibodies. This action translated to an increased protection by the same adjuvanted vaccines in mice for reduced viral loads and inflammation as a result of early and enhanced B‐cell recruitment and activation for antibody production. Sophie Valkenburg

>>> Assessment of enhanced influenza vaccination finds that FluAd conveys an advantage in mice and older adults.

Kavian N, Hachim A, Li AP, Cohen CA, Chin AW, Poon LL, Fang VJ, Leung NH, Cowling BJ, Valkenburg SA.

PMID: 32025302 PMCID: PMC6997034 DOI: 10.1002/cti2.1107

06 Feb 2020

2019nCoV: Prof Malik Peiris part of the international effort

Professor Malik Peiris, Scientific Co-Director at HKU-Pasteur, has been part of an international collaboration studying 2019-nCoV that has led to the development of one of the earliest molecular diagnostic tests. His efforts, and those of the whole scientific community, are crucial to better understand this novel coronavirus. This molecular diagnostic test has been published by WHO on their website and has been sent to more than 30 countries to help the international effort. 
The deployment of diagnostic tests is crucial to evaluate the extent of the outbreak and is the first step to stop its propagation.”   
Malik Peiris
In 2003, Malik Peiris played a key role in the discovery that a novel coronavirus was the cause of SARS, its diagnosis and pathogenesis and contributed to its control. His latest research focused on the recently emerged MERS coronavirus.

05 Feb 2020

2019nCoV: Virus’ factsheet and protective measures

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 
Cases started emerging from people who happens to attend wet markets in Wuhan. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted from animals to people. It is now established that 2019-nCoV can spread between people, such as MERS and SARS.
Person-to-person transmission occurs among close contact, mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.
Safety measures: 
Be sure to consult the Hong Kong Health Department guidelines for the general public and WHO’s standard recommendations:
Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands;
Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough;
If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider;
When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals;
The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.
Hospital Authority
Hospital Authority is on emergency response level and will provide updated information to the general public.  

05 Feb 2020

[PROTOCOL] 2019nCoV: Detection of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in suspected human cases by RT-PCR

This protocol is designed to detect 2019-nCoV in human clinical specimens. It was developed by Daniel Chu and Leo PoonDivision of Public Health Laboratory Sciences (HKU), and Malik Peiris, Co-Director at HKU-Pasteur. 
The two monoplex assays described here are reactive with coronaviruses under the subgenus Sarbecovirus that includes 2019-nCoV, SARS-CoV and bat SARS-like coronaviruses. The rationales for using this detection approach are: 1) the genetic diversity of 2019-nCoV in humans and animals is yet to be fully determined and 2) many laboratories lack positive controls for 2019-nCoV. Viral RNA extracted from SARS-CoV can be used a positive control in the assays below. As SARS was eliminated in humans, suspected cases that are positive in these RT-PCR assays should be considered to be infected by the 2019-nCoV. The N gene RT-PCR is recommended as a screening assay and the Orf1b assay as a confirmatory one. In the event of a positive PCR result, sequence analyses of the amplicons will further help to confirm the result and to distinguish between SARS-CoV and 2019-nCoV. An N gene positive/Orf1b negative result should be regarded as indeterminate and the case is recommended to be referred to a WHO reference lab for further testing.
These assays have been evaluated using a panel of controls and only the positive control (SARS- CoV RNA) is tested positive in these assays. NB. Synthetic oligonucleotide positive controls or equivalents for 2019-nCoV is not available at present but will be available shortly.

05 Feb 2020

2019nCoV: The Institut Pasteur International Network At The Forefront

The very nature of the Network makes perfect sense in times like these during global crisis. With close to 23,000 staff from 33 institutions (including 19 WHO collaborating Centres) spread across five continents, the Institut Pasteur International Network  is dedicated to the surveillance, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases through biological research, education and public health activities. As a member of the International Network, HKU-Pasteur Research Pole’s research is enriched by the data and material collected by the other Instituts Pasteur throughout Asia.

Leo Poon’s team has developed a sensitive protocol for the molecular detection of the 2019nCoV and has freely distributed reagents across the Pasteur Network and to other labs. We thank him for his generosity and hard work!

>>> Download the protocol

05 Feb 2020

2019nCoV: Update on Institut Pasteur’s Work

On January 29, 2020, the Institut Pasteur, which is responsible for monitoring respiratory viruses in France, sequenced the whole genome of the coronavirus known as "2019-nCoV", becoming the first institution in Europe to sequence the virus since the start of the outbreak. The virus was sequenced at the Institut Pasteur's Mutualized Platform for Microbiology (P2M), which performs genome sequencing on bacterial, viral, fungal and parasite strains received by National Reference Centers and World Health Organization Collaborating Centers for the purpose of infectious disease surveillance. 

>>> Read More

As well as sequencing the whole genome of coronavirus 2019-nCoV, the Institut Pasteur continued to work on the samples taken from the first confirmed cases. The quality of these initial samples enabled rapid cell-culture isolation of the new virus. The Institut Pasteur's scientists now have access to the virus responsible for the infection. The isolation of the virus paves the way for new diagnostic, therapeutic and prophylactic approaches. 

>>> Read More