MCRI launches landmark study into children's COVID-19 immune responses with assistance from Rio Tinto

19 May 2020

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) has launched its COVID Immune research program to investigate COVID-19 effects on children’s immune systems.

The new program, an Australian first, has been made possible with support from Rio Tinto, which has donated A$670,000 towards the effort.

The project will leverage five of MCRI’s large and unique population-based cohorts of around 2000 children, aged 0 to 18 years, as well as a large adult cohort for comparison.

The team will investigate whether some children are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to differences in their immune system, how long immunity to COVID-19 lasts, and examine viral transmission within households.

These children are already taking part in research programs with MCRI and its research partners, so had extensive biological samples and immune data collected before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Participating families will use a weekly online disease symptom tracker, may be asked to provide samples for SARS-CoV-2 virus and antibody analysis, and will complete psychological wellbeing surveys to provide the research team with a complete picture of COVID-19’s effects.

In doing so, the children and their families will provide a unique chance to further understand disease features and progression, transmission within families and long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection on children’s immune systems and blood vessels. SARS-CoV-2 is the specific coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness.

Associate Professor Kirsten Perrett said “We also plan to answer the nagging question of how long children and adults stay immune to SARS-CoV-2 and look at the psychosocial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – on things like health, life changes, behaviour and emotions in children and their families.”

Rio Tinto Growth & Innovation and Health, Safety & Environment group executive Stephen McIntosh said “Rio Tinto is pleased to support this vital research into the effects of COVID-19 on children and families. The health, safety and wellbeing of our people and our communities is our first priority. Partnering with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is an important opportunity to help grow global knowledge about the current epidemic and protect our community for the future.”

Professor David Burgner, co-lead of the COVID Immune program with A/Prof Perrett said “We were so impressed with the speed shown by Rio Tinto in responding to our call for support. This generous philanthropic contribution means we can take full advantage of our years of research into children’s immune systems.” 

MCRI Director, Professor Kathryn North AC, said, “One of the things I love about research in general, and MCRI in particular, is the great relationships we foster with the wider community. This includes the wonderful kids and their families who participate in our research, and our generous philanthropic partners. We warmly welcome Rio Tinto into this special relationship and thank them for their generous support.”

Visit the 
MCRI website for more information on COVID Immune. 

About MCRI

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world. Based at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, MCRI pioneers new treatments, trials better vaccines and improves ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. MCRI is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions.