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Maine lab genetically modifies mice for COVID-19 research

The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor is the nation's leader in producing Ace-2 receptor mice. The mice will be shipped to research labs around the world.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A world-renowned laboratory in Bar Harbor is playing an important role in coronavirus research.

The Jackson Lab is breeding a special kind of mouse that allows researchers to test COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

Jackson Lab CEO and President Ed Liu said, "It is absolutely essential not only to have cell models but to have animal models that can test the effectiveness of these drugs."

The Jackson Lab Bar Harbor campus has been developing Ace-2 receptor mice. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Liu said the lab has been "dramatically expanding" the scale of the operation. 

Ace-2 receptor mice have altered cells that allow it to be infected by COVID-19.

Liu explains, "COVID-19 enters your cells by a surface protein in you called Ace-2. Now, the mice have Ace-2 as well, but the mouse version doesn't bind to COVID-19. So by engineering the mouse to have human Ace-2, we now have a model for infectivity."

Shipped out from Bar Harbor, the mice will become part of a global research effort.

Liu said, "We're doing a massive expansion with the goal of delivering it right now to two-hundred labs that have asked for it throughout the world."

The hope is that at one of those labs, researchers will be able to develop an anti-viral drug and eventually, hopefully, a COVID-19 vaccine.

"I would surprise me if we don't have the first series of anti-virals out by sometime this summer," Liu said.

However, Ed Liu said he does not expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be developed until the end of this year or the beginning of next year at the earliest.

An antiviral drug would be used to treat patients sick with COVID-19, while a vaccine is something people would take as a preventative measure.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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