Wed, May 07, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Scientists isolate virus as fight against SARS continues

GENE Researchers now hope the information can help uncover a cure for the disease, though they are unsure how long it will be before a vaccine becomes available

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A group of medical experts from National Taiwan University Hospital yesterday publish their research results on SARS, announcing that they have finished the ``gene sequencing'' of the virus.

PHOTO: LIU HSIN-TEH, TAIPEI TIMES

Scientists at National Taiwan University have successfully isolated the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, the university said yesterday.

Researchers will now concentrate on developing a vaccine against the disease, which has claimed more than 400 lives and infected thousands around the world

The university hospital was the nation's first healthcare center to treat suspected SARS patients and more than 100 probable and suspected SARS patients are hospitalized at the facility.

Yesterday, the team studying the SARS virus released a set of preliminary results, confirming that the virus discovered in Taiwan is genetically different from those in other epidemic areas, such as Hong Kong and Toronto.

Chen Ding-shinn (陳定信), dean of the university's medical college, said that much work has already been undertaken by the general public to prevent SARS.

"Meanwhile, we scientists are doing our best to find more specific background information on our enemy as soon as possible," Chen said at a press conference yesterday.

Analyzing samples from SARS patients, university scientists successfully separated the TW1 isolate, which has now been sequenced by researchers at the National Health Research Institute.

A second isolate will be seq-uenced next week.

Chen Pei-jer (陳培哲), director of hospital's Hepatitis Research Center, said that there are three to 12 DNA distinctions between the virus in Taiwan compared to the virus in Toronto, Hanoi and Hong Kong.

Scientists cannot yet say what the implications of these differences are.

Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳), director of the hospital's department of infectious diseases, said that observations during the outbreak last month revealed that some SARS patients, who were infected by people displaying only slight symptoms of the virus, later became seriously ill.

"That is greatly worrying to us," Chang said.

Chang also said that there was no guarantee that recovered SARS patients would not become infected by the virus again.

Meanwhile, the university team is working with both domestic and overseas research centers to develop a vaccine against SARS.

According to Chiang Bor-luen (江伯倫), the university is focusing on developing not only a DNA vaccine but also a protein vaccine.

The university team has cultivated the SARS virus in the cells of monkey kidneys.

When the vaccine will be available remains uncertain, Chiang said.

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