Research into the long-term effects of coronavirus and potential links between the disease and unborn babies has received a funding boost from the Victorian government.
Innovation and Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford on Thursday announced $2.3 million for the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute-led “Impact of COVID-19 on Organs” project.
The funds will help 40 scientists from four institutions investigate cellular mechanisms leading to “long COVID” issues, such as fatigue, cognitive difficulties and ongoing breathing problems.
They will also analyse variants from Brazil, India and the United Kingdom to understand the impact of the more infectious strains on the major human organs.
Professor Melissa Little from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and her team are using human tissues created from stem cells for the project.
“We can infect these with the virus that causes COVID-19 and that allows us to actually look at exactly what cells are being affected by the virus, and better understand exactly what’s going on in the model of human tissue without actually having a human in the laboratory,” she told reporters on Thursday.
She said the team had already identified issues with the heart as a result of the virus disrupting oxygen supply.
The funding will also allow researchers to gain greater insight into the potential transfer of coronavirus to unborn babies, as well as the effects of the virus on placenta.
“What we understand now is that there’s no link between COVID-19 and pregnancy complications or disease,” Professor Little said.
“But we have been building these very complicated models and we have a model placenta, and we have some evidence that it can affect (it).”
The money for the study has been allocated from the state government’s $31 million COVID-19 research fund.
Ms Pulford said Victoria was home to 14 independent medical research institutes, which employed more than 5800 people.
The sector supports more than 30,000 jobs across institutes, universities and industry.
“The knowledge we’re building will help people now and for generations to come,” Ms Pulford said in a statement.
The research push came as the Victorian government announced an extra three mass vaccination hubs would come online after national cabinet agreed to fast-track eligibility for over 50s.
The delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Australians over 50 will be brought forward to May 3 for state and territory facilities and GP respiratory clinics, before all GP clinics have them from May 17.
In preparation for the rollout ramping up, Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital and Sunshine Hospital will open as mass vaccination centres on Friday before Mercure Ballarat comes online from Monday.
Of the 4519 Victorians to receive a COVID-19 dose in the 24 hours to Thursday, more than 1000 rolled up their sleeves at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and Geelong’s former Ford factory.
These existing mass vaccination hubs began accepting over 70s with or without bookings on Wednesday, with Health Minister Martin Foley describing the day-one turnout as strong.
Victoria has now gone 55 consecutive days without a locally acquired case of coronavirus, following 13,951 tests.
There were two new cases in hotel quarantine reported on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 19.
The Health Department said six close contacts linked to a possible COVID-19 transmission event at a Sydney quarantine hotel had been identified, as well as a person from a Perth hotel where two cases of transmission were confirmed on Wednesday.
All have been tested and will need to quarantine for 14 days.