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Washington University mouse model to help speed up COVID-19 research

The model can be used by other researchers to accelerate testing of drugs and vaccines to treat COVID-19
Credit: SLBJ/Wash U
Dr. Michael Diamond, Wash U

ST. LOUIS — Researchers at Washington University have developed a so-called “mouse model” that replicates the COVID-19 illness in humans.

The model can be used by other researchers to accelerate testing of drugs and vaccines to treat COVID-19.

Researchers outlined their work in a paper published online Wednesday in the journal Cell. Dr. Michael Diamond is principal investigator on the research; he’s Washington U’s Herbert S. Gasser professor of medicine and an expert on viral infections.

Efforts worldwide to develop treatments and preventives for COVID-19 have been slowed by a shortage of laboratory mice susceptible to the virus that causes COVID-19, officials said.

“There’s been a huge push to develop vaccines and therapeutics as quickly as possible, and since animal models have been limited, these investigational drugs and vaccines have been put directly into humans, and many of them haven’t panned out,” Diamond said in a statement. “Mice are useful because you can study a large number of them and observe the course of the disease and the immune response in a way that is hard to do in people.”

It’s more cost-effective, efficient and safer to test potential drugs and vaccines in mice before moving to studies in non-human primates and humans, he said.

Mice don’t naturally get infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. It infects humans by attaching to a certain protein (angiotensin converting enzyme-2, or ACE2) on respiratory tract cells. The virus can’t attach to the protein in mice because it is different from that in humans.

Recognizing the need for a faster source of mice for the studies, Diamond and his colleagues found a way to temporarily introduce the human ACE2 protein into mice.

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