33– Coronavirus research update, with Dr. Brett Hurst | Day 176

September 03, 2020 Utah State University Office of Research Episode 33
33– Coronavirus research update, with Dr. Brett Hurst | Day 176
33– Coronavirus research update, with Dr. Brett Hurst | Day 176
Sep 03, 2020 Episode 33
Utah State University Office of Research

Wyatt brings us an update from Utah State University's Institute for Antiviral Research. Check-in on some golden hamsters and learn how perceptions of science change when the whole world is watching. 

Show Notes Transcript

Wyatt brings us an update from Utah State University's Institute for Antiviral Research. Check-in on some golden hamsters and learn how perceptions of science change when the whole world is watching. 

Wyatt: [00:00:00] This is being recorded during the first week of the fall 2020 semester at Utah state university for student residents halls were locked down after COVID-19 was detected in the wastewater. Back in June, I talked to some of the researchers who work to make this type of wastewater testing possible.

Here's a clip from that episode because 

Brett Hurst: [00:00:24] each dorm has an exit pipe. Carrying wastewater from the dorm. And especially with students who may be asymptomatic potentially. Now we could detect the virus, even when they're asymptomatic. 

Wyatt: [00:00:37] If you want to understand how wastewater testing works and how it can help public officials manage.

COVID-19 and other diseases in the future. Go check out episode 22. Today is Thursday, September 3rd, 2020. And in this episode, we're going to catch up with Dr. Brett Hearst from Utah state university's Institute for antiviral research, potential treatments for COVID 19 need to be tested to make sure that they don't do more harm than good using animal models or cellular models inside of Petri dishes.

Dr. Hurst and his colleagues can identify compounds that show promise in treating COVID-19. I originally interviewed Dr. Hearst back in April. So if you want to relive the early days of the pandemic, you can go listen to episode nine. That episode goes into a little more detail about how the Institute for antiviral research is funded, how they got working so quickly on coronavirus treatments and how COVID-19 was delivered.

To their lab, FYI, there was a tracking number involved, but in this episode, you're going to hear about how USU is on the front lines of modeling COVID-19 infections in animals. We check in on a colony of golden hamsters and Dr. Hurst tells me about how COVID-19 is changing. The ways that people view science.

My name is  and you could be taking a little time to. Toast to pop tarts, but you are listening to this instead.

Here's a quick update with Dr. Brett Hurst. 

Brett Hurst: [00:02:13] In March, we were kind of under the impression that, you know, maybe things would start to slow down and that it would start to be a little bit more calm and really we've stayed very busy. I guess. That's really the only thing that surprised me is just, we don't see any light at the end of the tunnel.

It seems like things are just going to kind of continue the way that they are. Um, hopefully until they can get something kind of in place with either a vaccine or a treatment, 

Wyatt: [00:02:34] are these compounds trying to attack the virus or help with the humans? How are they interacting? Um, 

Brett Hurst: [00:02:41] there are some that, uh, attack the virus directly that try and stop the virus from being able to replicate.

And then there are other compounds that will actually target the immune response of the host to that virus and to see if they can decrease the amount of inflammation or the amount of damage that that virus has been able to do. We haven't turned anyone away because of the mechanism of action of their compound.

So yeah. We're willing to test it and to see if we can, if we can demonstrate any activity and see if it works. You 

Wyatt: [00:03:07] mentioned the animal model, which is the golden hamster that's being engineered with the same protein that allows coronavirus to attack ourselves, right? Yeah. Yes. 

Brett Hurst: [00:03:17] Yeah. So the, we have a number of different animal models that we're pursuing.

Uh, the one that we're, we're very excited about though, is that we have, um, hamsters that express. That that human, uh, is called the angiotensin converting enzyme to, or the human ACE two receptor. And so that is one of the receptors that the Corona virus uses to attach and to be able to be taken up into the cell.

And so we have hamsters that express that with the help of, um, Zonda Wong, uh, w who's one of our collaborators here, um, on campus, uh, he helped engineer these hamsters to be able to express that human protein, that human receptor. And so then, um, we've infected a number of these hamsters and actually the results look quite promising, um, where we were able to see, uh, a severe respiratory infection in these animals.

Um, and some of the animals do succumb to infection. So it does look promising there's we're still working on, uh, what we call characterizing the model or determining what, what are the clinical signs that we see in people? Which ones of those can we identify in the animals and which ones can then be treated by, um, by a compound so that we can actually show an improvement following treatment.

So that's kind of where we're at right now, but the, the initial results that we have with these animals do look very promising. 

Wyatt: [00:04:34] Have you seen any hamsters like get infected, but be kind of asymptomatic or is that just kind of a human thing? The 

Brett Hurst: [00:04:41] hamsters are all very genetically similar and so they're not identical, but they are similar to each other.

And so we do see, I guess, degrees of, of how sick the hamsters get. Um, but it's not quite as extreme as it is with the human population where some people are, are not showing any kind of. Of signs of infection, but are still infected with the virus. 

Wyatt: [00:05:01] Yeah. Yeah. What generation of hamsters are 

Brett Hurst: [00:05:04] you on hamsters that we've actually tested were on the F two generation.

So with F zero being the original animals that were set up as the, as the founder pair, the F ones being the offspring from those, and then the F two being the offspring from the F1. So if you were to look at it in terms of human population, these would be like the, the grandchildren of the original hamsters is 

Wyatt: [00:05:26] there.

Advantages to like the F two generation versus the F three generation. 

Brett Hurst: [00:05:31] The F two is available right now. So that's what we're able to test. Uh, but there are advantages to the longer we keep a colony and the more that we can continue to breed that Connie together, the more similar the genetics will get, uh, because we are genetically engineering, the animals, there's a potential that the animals were all a little bit different or had different effects.

Oppression of those, uh, that human receptor. Uh, and as we continue to breathe, those hamsters together and other genetics will become more similar. And so hopefully we'll get a more stable model where all of the offspring are essentially the same as the other 

Wyatt: [00:06:04] offspring. Yeah. Have you started testing any compounds on these hamsters yet?

Or is it just been like testing them to see if they can get COVID. 

Brett Hurst: [00:06:13] Uh, so right now we're just still trying to just kind of develop the model and, and make sure that we can actually identify the signs of disease in the animals. And then see if we can actually treat those. Um, we've done very limited pilot studies where we, we tried to look and see if we could treat with one of the active compounds that is being proposed for.

For coronavirus. Um, but we really don't have enough data on that to say if it's working or not. So we're hoping kind of over the next few months that we'll be closer to testing compounds and hopefully by the end of the year, we'll have some positive data to report. As far as the compounds that we've been able 

Wyatt: [00:06:45] to test, is it an exponential curve where it takes really long to get going, but once you get going.

You'll be set. Yes. Once 

Brett Hurst: [00:06:52] we've got a large enough colony established, then it will go much more quickly, uh, Zonda log-in and his postdocs are the one that actually managed all the colony in the, but they're the ones that are responsible for the breeding. And for, for letting us know when there's animals, what 

Wyatt: [00:07:05] makes the research that's happening here at USU regarding COVID-19?

Um, Special or unique or interesting as 

Brett Hurst: [00:07:13] far as interesting. Um, we're really the only place that has these special hamsters that have that human receptor. And so right now we're the only ones in the world that can do that work. So we're, we're the only ones that are working on that. And so, um, and, and the, the initial results, we have looked very promising.

Um, I was actually able to go in with, uh, our graduate student a couple of weeks ago, and, uh, along with our veterinarian here on campus, uh, Dr Erin Olson. And we went in and looked at the animals together just to kind of see what we were observing. And, and it was interesting to see the kind of disease that we were seeing.

Um, looked very similar to what we were hearing from reports of human infections. It's just kind of interesting and kind of neat for Utah state to be kind of on the front lines of 

Wyatt: [00:07:54] all of that. So you mentioned that we're the only ones with these. Hamsters that have the human receptor are, they're like Potbelly pigs in Arkansas who have the receptors.

Well, like what other animal models are being crazy. The other animal models that, 

Brett Hurst: [00:08:09] that I've seen so far is there's a mouse that has the same receptor that they've, they've inserted the human receptor into the mouse. Um, we are actually, we have a colony of those mice that we've just received a few weeks ago.

There's um, I grew up, that's working with ferrets. There's a group that's working with Guinea pigs there's groups that are working with non-human primates. There's, there's quite a few different animal models that are progressing across, um, across multiple labs in the United States. 

Wyatt: [00:08:34] What, what's the advantage of having multiple animal models?

Brett Hurst: [00:08:38] So really the advantage is, is, well, each of those animals may have different limitations. So there may be signs of disease that we see and the hamsters that are just never present in the mice. If you can show that your compound works in, uh, for example, my, uh, hamsters and non-human primates that provides more definitive evidence that your compound will likely work in humans.

And so it would just give you a stronger case to present for your compound being effective and for being considered for a therapy, 

Wyatt: [00:09:07] there been a benefit with, um, all that's happened around chloroquine and it being shown as unhelpful has that kind of helped people understand the importance of what you do better.


Brett Hurst: [00:09:19] we've all been kind of in this together. Um, everybody's been kind of aware of science as it's happening. And so what we see in like a published paper that the normally when, when it's getting reported, it's been peer reviewed and it's been checked and it's been run multiple times. Um, the fails that have happened along the way have been there.

They're not hidden, but they're just not mentioned. We don't tell them every single thing that happened in every failed experiment. And so I think that's been kind of a, the interesting part about it is, is watching people, trying to adjust to the realities of science that it's not always just as pretty and as, as neat as it looks in the paper when we finish, um, usually there's a lot of speed bumps along 

Wyatt: [00:09:58] the way.

It'll be interesting to see how public perceptions of science change after the smoke clears from the COVID 19 pandemic. Speaking of smoke clearing next week's episode is about recovery in the years. Following a wildfire. Here's a quick clip of next week's episode with Patrick Belmont. 

Brett Hurst: [00:10:20] Well, the Trisha mountains have been suppressed for fire for decades.

Uh, so you would've seen a lot of really dense forest on very steep slopes. We live in a very difficult place to move around, difficult place to try to make a living. When we got there in 2013, 

Wyatt: [00:10:36] it was still largely a movie you'll be able to listen to that next Tuesday, make sure to subscribe to the instead podcast.

So you see it, as soon as it goes up after Patrick's episode, you'll be able to hear from Dr. Regan, Zane about his work building roads that can wirelessly charge electric cars. Thanks for listening to this COVID 19 research update. If you heard something you liked, make sure to tell a friend about it instead is produced by me.

Why at Triber and Nick Vasquez as part of our work in the office of research at Utah state university.

Brett Hurst: [00:11:13] Okay.