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Alumni contributions to key COVID-19 research

We hear from two alumni on Newcastle's contribution to recent research, that has identified two specific nose cells as likely infection points for the COVID-19 virus.

Global research network the Human Cell Atlas (HCA) Lung Biological Network, with contributions from scientific experts including the Newcastle University Faculty of Medical Sciences, has pinpointed two types of cells in the human nose as the likely infection points for the COVID-19 virus, along with cells in the eye and the lining of the intestine.

Professor Majlinda Lako, Newcastle University alumna and members of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, commented: “I am happy for our data, which indicates the ocular surface as an additional entry route for SARS-CoV-2, to contribute to this collaborative HCA manuscript. This demonstrates the strength of scientific collaborations and large-scale initiatives in revealing new insights for the COVID-19 pandemic.” Professor Lako specialises in Stem Cell Science, providing insight into both the developing and adult human eye at a single cell level.

A more detailed analysis of SARS-CoV-2 entry proteins in the superficial ocular epithelium was published also this week in the prestigious eye journal “The Ocular Surface”. This research was performed by Professor Lako’s group in collaboration with the Newcastle University Single cell Genomics Facility, Bioinformatics Support Unit, HDBR and NHS Blood and Transplant, Tissue and Eye Services.

Professor Muzlifah Haniffa is a member of the Human Cell Atlas International Organising Committee and researcher at the Newcastle University Faculty of Medical Sciences. explained how the HCA has already played a vital role in understanding the coronavirus: “The Human Cell Atlas is like a ‘Google map of our body’ and has been a tremendous resource to understand which cells can be infected by the coronavirus causing COVID-19. The data is available for the global research community to access and explore.”

Professor Haniffa, Wellcome Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Science, is one of three co-leads of the Development Cell Atlas Biological Network (alongside Sten Linnarsson of the Karolinska Institute and Deanne Taylor of the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, Philadelphia) that have contributed human development datasets for the analysis of SARS-CoV-2 entry points for this study. She received her PhD from Newcastle University in 2009, was awarded the Foulkes Foundation Medal in 2019 and was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2020.

When asked how her time at Newcastle University has influenced her work, Professor Haniffa concluded: “I have been extremely fortunate to have the full support of Newcastle University throughout my research career.”

Find out about how you can support research into COVID-19 through the Newcastle University Research Fund.

Pictured: Professor Muzlifah Haniffa

published on: 28 May 2020