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COVID-19 research helps clear young patient ahead of cancer treatment

Before doctors could start cancer treatment on the child, they needed to ensure that he was clear of the coronavirus.

FILE: A healthcare worker organises COVID-19 tests that were just administered at United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site in Houston, Texas Thursday, 25 June 2020. Picture: AFP.

CAPE TOWN - A COVID-19 positive child, who’s also been found to have cancer, has benefitted from research on live samples of the coronavirus.

Experts from the University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University cultivated live samples of the virus in a highly controlled laboratory at Tygerberg Hospital last month.

Scientists can now see how the virus reacts when exposed to certain conditions and the research also serves as reference material to standardise diagnostic tests.

Before doctors could start cancer treatment on the child, they needed to ensure that he was clear of the coronavirus.

They approached the medical virology department where research on SARS-CoV-2 was being conducted, as the boy was still testing positive two to three weeks after his symptoms subsided.

UWC post-doctoral research fellow, Doctor Tasnim Suliman, explained: "They couldn’t understand that, so at that point, they sent me multiple samples from him to ascertain whether he still had the infectious virus. I was going to culture that and I did and in my hands, fortunately, no virus grew on both accounts."

Doctors were then able to continue with the young boy’s cancer treatment.

Suliman said that they had also developed protocols for an experiment, called a quantitative RT-PCR, which helped scientists determine the number of viral genomes in a particular sample.

"What that means is it can tell us how much virus is in a sample, not just that it’s positive or negative, it can actually measure the number of virus copies in a sample."

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