Date
20 June 2018
Prof. Yuen Kwok-yung (center), the Chair Professor of Infectious Diseases of the department of microbiology HKU, led the research into organoids for infectivity prediction. Photo: HKU
Prof. Yuen Kwok-yung (center), the Chair Professor of Infectious Diseases of the department of microbiology HKU, led the research into organoids for infectivity prediction. Photo: HKU

HKU researchers claim organoid breakthrough for flu test

A group of microbiologists from the University of Hong Kong are said to have created an organoid that can be used to test the infectivity of flu viruses more efficiently.

Scientists from HKU’s department of microbiology, led by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, collaborated with a Dutch research institute to develop a tissue culture which can prove useful to develop vaccines and medicines before virus outbreaks, according to an announcement.

The new organoid provides a better, cheaper, and more accurate alternative to similar tests that involve testing on mice, monkey, or extracted lung tissues, which can only live for 24-36 hours, Yuen said in a presentation this week.

The team used lung tissues as raw materials and extracted adult stem cells from the tissue and cultivated it into organoids.

The cultivation of organoid to mimic human organs from stem cell is the most difficult part, the professor explained.

An organoid is a miniature organ which can imitate certain functions of an organ, or in this case, airway which can produce mucus, enzyme, or ciliary movement.

The three-dimensional airway organoids were then turned into a two-dimensional one on permeable membranes to simulate more accurately the process of infection in human respiratory system.

Two pairs of flu viruses were used to verify the effectiveness of the organoid test.

The first pair was the H7N9, a highly human infectious avian flu, and the H7N2, the flu which spreads among birds but not humans.

Another pair used was human H1N1, the swine flu virus that broke out in 2009, and the ‘classical’ H1N1, which only spread among pigs.

Tests showed the number of H7N2 and ‘classical’ H1N1 viruses on the organoid samples were a thousand times less than the H7N9 and human H1N1, proving the experiment successful, Yuen said.

The organoid can live for more than a year, repair itself and be produced in the laboratory as well, Yuen added.

The technology will be used to test for more than a hundred kinds of avian flu as well as a canine flu sample from Guangxi.

According to Zhou Jie, one of the researchers involved in the project, said the same test can be used to test the damage caused by air pollution to lungs.

The discovery has been published in the latest PNAS journal. Meanwhile, an application for patent in the US has been filed, according to the announcement.

KN/RC

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