TAU researcher Dr. Natalia Freund and her team have abandoned their everyday work of isolating antibodies for HIV and other infectious diseases to urgently fight and treat COVID-19, the new coronavirus. The highly contagious disease has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, with almost 200,000 cases worldwide at press time.
Freund, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, will analyze blood samples from Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19 (eleven at press time). Working with graduate student Michael Mordekovich, she will use cutting-edge technology to isolate and extract special cells that produce antibodies following infection and immunize us against the virus. From these cells, she will isolate antibodies against the virus, produce them in her lab and test them for viral inhibition.
Hope for a vaccine
Freund is hopeful that within a few weeks her team will generate an antibody that will be ready for preclinical trials. The anticipated result is a treatment for COVID-19 patients and a candidate for the development of a vaccine, “although these would be ready in a best-case scenario months down the line,” said Dr. Freund.
Dr. Natalia Freund, testing to beat the coronavirus
In attempts to stem the outbreak as soon as possible, she is working intensively with colleagues at TAU as well as at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center (Tel Hashomer Hospital), Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital), Bar-Ilan University and the Institute for Biological Research.
Aside from Dr. Freund, several more scientists at TAU are working on various aspects of COVID-19 in a campus-wide effort to better understand and overcome the virus.