09.07.2020Monash University-adapting research to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has presented us with many changes and challenges we could not have predicted.

Monash took decisive and responsible action to protect its students, staff and broader community from a rapidly changing, unprecedented, global health issue.

Monash was able to transform its delivery of education quickly and with minimal interruption to the semester, so students could continue their studies online with the same high standards of quality and academic integrity.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Monash researchers have been driving many transformative responses to the virus, including:

1.     developing candidate vaccines and tests to detect infection risk

2.     testing new drug candidates to deal with the virus

3.     testing the viability of therapeutic pathways

4.     contributing to national requirements for ventilators, personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser

5.     deploying significant numbers of professionals into the health sector

6.     steering policy discussion in numerous areas to inform government and the community

7.     building public awareness of how COVID-19 affects the most vulnerable, from victims of domestic violence to gambling addicts

8.     using internet data to show changing patterns of behaviour

9.     sharing the impact of fake news on pandemic response.

What contribution is your organisation bringing to the economy and society during this COVID-19 pandemic?

The University launched a $30 million Student Compassionate and Hardship Package for vulnerable students affected by the COVID-19 situation.

The package offered:

●      an emergency payment of up to $500 to support students in Australia who are in immediate need, with the essentials to continue study

●      a payment of up to $7000 for students in Australia who are experiencing financial hardship. Applications closed at 5pm on 5 June 2020.

●      a payment of up to $5000 for students who have incurred reasonable costs due to the original inbound travel bans in China, Iran and Australia. Applications closed on 25 May 2020.

We also launched a student hardship appeal to staff, alumni and donors to support the Student Compassionate and Hardship Package, with the University matching every donation dollar for dollar.

Monash has advocated for financial support for international students – an integral part of our community who deserve our support during these unprecedented and difficult times – and welcomed the Victorian Government’s $45 million International Student Emergency Relief Fund as part of its emergency support package.

The relief package was a welcome announcement for thousands of students across the state, including those studying at Monash, who have been affected by this international crisis. The government’s package emphasises the value that Victoria places on the many contributions international students make to our society, and how fortunate we are that these students choose our state’s high-quality institutions for their education.

Monash is also continuing to work with governments to allow our commencing students who are currently overseas and impacted by travel restrictions to be able to transition to Australia through a secure corridor in February 2021.

What areas can government and private sector do to assist you in your contributions post COVID-19?

Now more than ever, the global community depends on the contributions of our researchers, educators, partners and collaborators to provide solutions to what has rapidly escalated into quite possibly the defining global health and economic emergency of our time.

Five Monash University projects investigating treatments for COVID-19, including a potential inhaled treatment, have been awarded funding by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

On 3 June, the Federal Health Minister, the Honourable Greg Hunt MP, announced more than $1.3 million for four Monash research projects as part of a $66 million fund to contribute to global efforts to control and eliminate the virus. The MRFF’s Coronavirus Research Response is part of the Australian Government’s $8 billion Coronavirus (COVID-19) National Health Plan. Projects funded include:

●      Investigating inhaled treatments for COVID-19: Professor Merlin Thomas

A collaborative research project between Monash and Murdoch University is investigating a potential inhaled treatment for COVID-19 that has a different mechanism than other treatments and vaccines in development.

●      Investigating antiviral drug Ivermectin for COVID-19: Dr Kylie Wagstaff

Dr Kylie Wagstaff and team have identified Ivermectin, an FDA-approved marketed anti-parasitic drug, as a potential antiviral for the COVID-19 causative virus, SARS-CoV-2.

●      Convalescent plasma for COVID-19: Associate Professor Zoe McQuilten

This study will evaluate whether plasma collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19 containing antibodies against the virus can act as a treatment for patients admitted to hospital or intensive care with COVID-19.

●      Novel inhibitors of SARS coronaviruses targeting ACE2: Professor Robert Widdop

Antiviral agents for COVID-19 are urgently needed to treat patients to reduce morbidity and mortality. The surface of the virus is decorated in trimeric spike proteins that attach the virus to the cell membrane by binding to the protein known as angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).

●      Stem-cell derived human tissue models for the identification of drugs to treat COVID-19: Professor José Polo

This project will use in vitro organ models derived from human stem cells to establish more sophisticated SARS-CoV-2 infection models, and use those models to identify drugs with antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2. This is a collaborative research project between the Doherty Institute, Monash University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

The effects of COVID-19 will be far-reaching and long-felt, and we must continue to work together with governments and our partners to ensure we are delivering impact at this critical juncture.

Other innovation-driven and knowledge-economy based nations are now in the process of aggressively supporting their universities as recognised engines of growth. Similar support in Australia is necessary to keep pace and alignment with our international competitors and collaborators.

What do you feel the future holds for Melbourne and your organisation on our Road to Recovery?

As a Monash community, we are prepared to not only stay the course during this trying time, but to continue to generate meaningful contributions to the global effort through our teaching, learning and research – all of which are made possible through the enduring strategic partnerships we have with industry, donors, government, research institutes, communities and universities which continue to change lives.

The Australian Government has reiterated the essential nature of universities, and the valuable role we will all play in rebuilding, recovering and resourcing following a crisis such as this. While the way we research, educate and operate may be changing, the quality of our education and research excellence is unwavering.

It is critical we preserve the quality of our outputs, experiences and endeavours so we can sustain our University community and continue to benefit broader communities, locally and globally.

We are seeking any ideas for collaboration that can create positive benefit in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis – not only in medical and pharmaceutical research, but multidisciplinary solutions including community wellbeing, AI and data science, governance, sustainability and beyond.

Monash University has been a driving force in Victoria’s innovation success story for decades. From its early beginnings 60 years ago as a standalone technology university surrounded by paddocks through to today, where Monash University is the largest, forward-thinking and most international university in Australia.

As our President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner AC explains in this video, the Monash Technology Precinct is where globally connected change-makers, innovators and enterprise converge. The Precinct is about imagining and building the future. It’s not a five or 10-year plan, but one that looks 20 years and more ahead. Together, Precinct partners are solving future global challenges in our Precinct and beyond.

We enable state-of-the-art research and development by driving the collaboration of our centres, platforms and facilities with key government and industry players.

It’s the combination of University know-how, research institutions, commercial partners and knowledge-based industries that delivers impact globally. That impact is felt locally, with increased economic activity and research collaboration benefiting local communities.

In May this year, Monash also launched The Melbourne Experiment, a landmark interdisciplinary research collaboration to study the effects of the COVID-19 restrictions on the functions of the city.

Bringing together senior researchers across the University, The Melbourne Experiment examines key activities and elements of the urban environment before, during and after the COVID-19 shutdown.

Given the significant immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic on Melbourne, the project will investigate a diverse set of activities including traffic flow, electricity use, urban and household behaviour, use of parks and public spaces, and air quality.

The global shutdown to control COVID-19 is a historic disruption to urban life. In these circumstances, we can observe activities that are fundamental to the idea of a city being brought to a stop, the positive and negative impacts on different groups, and then monitor how or whether they return as restrictions are gradually lifted.

The Melbourne Experiment will use its findings to develop new approaches for sustainable urban growth, emphasising social cohesion and environmental conservation alongside economic prosperity. A core aim is to explore the question: ‘What will Melbourne look like in 2050?’ if there is insufficient action to grow sustainably and inclusively.

The pandemic will have significant impacts, both immediate and long-term, on the shape of Australian society. It is essential that government and other decision-makers have access to the best information during the recovery. This research will contribute significantly to achieving that outcome.

Find about more about Monash University Corona-virus updates.

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