SCIENCE - Dozens of research teams are racing to develop animal models that can help find effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. IDM’s Douglas Reed is staging experiments in air chambers that attempt to infect monkeys through this route, which both might increase pathogenicity and offer clues about transmission risks.
Like ferrets, monkeys are being used to address the controversial issue of how much risk people face from aerosol spread of SARS-CoV-2, which will inform debates about the value of face masks and the risks of transmission at, say, a supermarket or in a classroom. Douglas Reed associate professor of immunology and of infectious diseases and microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh is staging experiments in air chambers that attempt to infect monkeys through this route, which both might increase pathogenicity and offer clues about transmission risks. “We’re trying to get enough virus into them to get some kind of disease,” says Reed, who studies African greens and for 7 years shared an office with Tulane's Chad Roy at a U.S. Army infectious disease lab. “If this virus remains replication competent after many minutes or hours in a small particle aerosol that can be subsequently inhaled, wow, that’s a big deal,” Roy adds.
Humans who suffer from severe COVID-19 often have underlying diseases, such as hypertension or diabetes, and Roy says researchers may have to find or create monkeys with these comorbidities to develop the most meaningful model. “Monkeys, in general are pretty resilient animals and they handle viral diseases pretty well,” he notes.
The list of animal models may soon grow. A recent study published online on 8 April by Science, for example, reported that the virus can infect cats. Autopsies showed the infection led to “massive” lesions in their nasal passages, trachea, and lungs.
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