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COVID-19 Research at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute

At the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, a number of researchers are involved in COVID-19 research projects working collaboratively with researchers across the University of Cambridge and at other institutions across the UK.

In addition to these research projects, a number of clinically-trained members of the Institute have returned to active clinical duties.

Find out more about these projects in our #ResponsiveResearch videos, a series of short interviews exploring how researchers at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute are adapting their research to study COVID-19.

We will continue to add to this page with further information.

Covid-19 research projects:

Professor Robin Franklin's lab and collaborators in the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease have identified genetic and structural similarities between SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). The team have found key structural similarities between the coronavirus and the rubella virus – in the Macro domain, almost a third (29%) of the amino acids were the same for both viruses. The team put forward a hypothesis in a pre-print on Medrxiv that MMR could offer some protection to vulnerable groups against poor outcomes in COVID-19 infection. This study is based on analysis of genetic and epidemiological data, and at this stage is simply put forward as an hypothesis - it is not a laboratory or clinical study. Find out more in our interview with Dr Adam Young.

Professor Bertie Göttgens and Dr Elisa Laurenti's labs are supporting a project led by Professor Ken Smith (Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease) which will map molecular signatures in over 600,000 blood cells, collected from 100 COVID-19 patients. The Göttgens lab are deploying their world-leading expertise in single cell analysis, to reveal molecular signatures associated with poor disease outcome. Outcomes from this study should be available within 2-3 months, which will facilitate the dedication of clinical resources to the most vulnerable patients, before they deteriorate. The research will also investigate how the stem cell compartment and the immune system respond to COVID-19, revealing what types of immune responses are associated with good/poor patient outcomes and providing important clues for the design of successful immune-modulatory treatment regimens

Dr Sanjay Sinha’s lab are looking at cardiovascular dysfunction in COVID-19 in vitro using the lab’s established human embryonic stem cell derived-cardiomyocyte and vascular cell models. The group are examining viral proteins and pseudotypes in human cardiomyocytes and vascular cells and ways this can be modulated by modifying the ACE2 viral receptor or accessory proteases such as TMPRSS2 and will study the effects of the immune response on these cells. The aim of this project is to provide information on the cellular and molecular responses of human cardiomyocytes to COVID-19 infection and identify potential ways to inhibit cardiac dysfunction in high risk patients.

Dr Joo-Hyeon Lee’s group are supporting a project led by Professor Kathryn Lilley (Department of Biochemistry), Professor Anne Willis (MRC Toxicology Unit) and Dr James Thaventhiran (MRC Toxicology Unit). The project aims to identify the RNA binding proteins required for the efficient intracellular targeting, transcription, modification, processing, translation and encapsidation of viral RNAs and brings together a team of researchers with broad research backgrounds in Cambridge including experts in upper respiratory airway organoids (Lee), Immunology (Thaventhiran), RNA translation control (Willis), RNA binding proteome (Lilley) and Virology (Goodfellow). The Lee lab is providing human airway organoids which are known to highly express the ACE2 receptor.

Fotis Sampaziotis and Professor Ludovic Vallier’s lab are developing an in vitro platform to screen therapeutic agents using cholangiocyte organoids which have been developed by the lab to screen therapeutic agents for their capacity to inhibit viral entry and study the mechanisms by which SARS-COV2 enter cells. The team are exploring the hypothesis that infection of cholangiocytes (which express ACE2 receptor) may mediate hepatic dysfunction associated with virus infection. Find out more in our interview with Dr Sampaziotis.

Dr Cédric Ghevaert’s group are working with Professor Alistair Poole and Professor Andrew Davidson at the University of Bristol on a project investigating viral interactions with megakaryocytes and looking at the effect on platelet release and function because abnormal blood clotting is an important feature in very ill patients. The team will generate stocks of frozen megakaryocytes to send to collaborators in Bristol.

Dr Ingo Ringshausen's lab are carrying out a project aiming to harness the inherent immunosuppressive properties of allogenic mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) which can be used to treat severe inflammation in the lungs. The team are seeking to identify therapies using small-molecules that could address patients experiencing severe Covid-19 inflammation in their lungs without the need for cell transplantation.

Professor David Rowitch's lab are working on a project to test an alternative enzyme to enhance COVID-19 antibody testing. This pilot project will serve as a proof of concept, providing a potentially valuable resource and alternative in COVID-19 antibody screenings.

Further information about COVID-19 research across the University can be found on the University's dedicated COVID-19 research page and the Cambridge Fighting COVID website.