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Coronavirus: Isolation of Sars-CoV-2 in Hungary Important but Vaccine Probably Still Far Away

Péter Cseresnyés 2020.03.18.

Chief medical officer Cecília Müller announced on Tuesday that researchers at the national security lab of Hungary’s National Center for Public Health (NNK) have become the first in the country to successfully isolate the novel coronavirus, the Sars-CoV-2. This is an important scientific breakthrough which will enable Hungarian researchers to later develop a vaccine against the virus. Although the epidemic just shifted gears in Hungary, most scientists agree that at least 1-2 years are needed for a reliable, effective vaccine to be produced.

The lab-grown samples will help scientists in Hungary develop better diagnostic testing, therapies and, in the long run, vaccines to fight the coronavirus. It also means that Hungarian researchers will have access to the global pathogen without having to undertake the complicating step of shipping a live virus across international borders.

The virus strains have been isolated using the throat and nasal swabs of one of the infected patients in Hungary, and from now on it can be produced in virtually any quantity.

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Every time a virus infects someone and replicates in their respiratory tract, it mutates, with about half a dozen genetic mutations occurring. But each isolation of the virus allows scientists to see how quickly the Sars-CoV-2 virus is mutating, and what the implications of the mutations may be for humans.

Having been able to reproduce the pathogen will help in research and vaccine development. Also, the isolation is a significant achievement because it can be compared to other grown copies of the virus; the sequence of the virus’s hereditary material can be determined as well, which indicates, among other things, whether there is a mutation at the binding point of the coronavirus and the cell – virologist Zoltán Kis, the leader of the team that isolated the virus explained to daily Magyar Nemzet.

In an interview with Hungary’s state television, Kis said his team had to wait more than a week for the virus, which had been placed in a special cell culture environment, to begin multiplying.

The Hungarian scientists received help from their German colleagues, who were among the first in Europe to isolate the virus, as well as from Italian experts who shared necessary “laboratory tricks” with them.

Coronavirus: Hungarian NNK Team Successfully Isolates Virus, says Chief Medical Officer

According to the virologist, there is a great deal of international co-operation in pathogen research, and experts are sharing their experiences and coordinating their findings. Knowledge acquired through virus research is being uploaded to an international database. Sharing the research and the broader knowledge gained this way is extremely important for testing the virus and ultimately for producing the vaccine, he emphasized.

It is not the first time strains of the Sars-CoV-2 have been isolated. Chinese scientists first did so, later the US, Japan, India, Australia, Italy, and many other countries have successfully grown samples of the virus.

It is hard to tell when a reliable vaccine will be developed, but international and Hungarian researchers say realistically at least 1 or 2 years are needed for that. Even though according to the World Health Organization (WHO) experts, about 20 vaccines are currently under development by several research groups around the world.

Featured photo by Tamás Sóki/MTI