Scientists at the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory have discovered mutations to the novel coronavirus utilizing new know-how that enables the state to trace COVID-19 throughout Nebraska extra exactly.
The know-how allows scientists to conduct a brand new type of whole gene sequencing that helps officers affirm whether or not circumstances of COVID-19 reinfection come from the identical clone of the virus or signify a mutated type of SARS- CoV-2, in keeping with a press launch issued by UNMC Thursday.
Utilizing this tech, contact tracers will now be higher capable of decide whether or not individuals inside sure populations, like nursing house residents or meatpacking staff, have been contaminated with the identical variants of the SARS- CoV-2 virus.
Nebraska Public Health Laboratory scientists—all of whom are college at UNMC—labored with a medtech start-up to validate the automated-sequencing know-how and acquire Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA in September 2020.
California-based Clear Labs helped UNMC validate the know-how utilizing a brand new instrument referred to as the GridION nanopore sequencer. An vital function of the GridION sequencer is its capability to automate, as automation will increase the variety of samples that may be processed day by day.
Earlier know-how restricted sequencing to a small a part of the RNA or genome of the virus. However the brand new tech permits UNMC investigators to see a extra full image of the pandemic’s impact on Nebraska, together with the main points to point whether or not a pattern represents the unique model of the virus or a brand new mutation. A number of optimistic COVID-19 specimens from throughout Nebraska are actually being analyzed.
Up to now, variants discovered by Nebraska Public Well being Laboratory scientists utilizing the brand new tech embody two mutations thought to scale back the virus’s means to trigger an infection and extreme signs, mentioned Baha Abdalhamid, MD, PhD. Abdalhamid is an assistant professor of pathology and microbiology at UNMC.
Analysis continues on the severity and transmissibility of the most typical and widespread variants of the SARS- CoV-2 virus, generally known as the UK, Brazil and South African variants. The brand new entire gene sequencing know-how will assist officers forecast whether or not a given variant would possibly improve the variety of circumstances amongst high-risk populations or delay herd immunity. Officers will then be capable to make simpler public well being suggestions.
This may not be nice information to the ears of pandemic-weary Nebraskans, in keeping with Peter Iwen, PhD, director of the Nebraska Public Well being Laboratory.
“If we have now a extra extremely transmittable virus, we’re going to need to tighten up once more to stop the unfold,” Iwen mentioned. “That’s not what individuals wish to hear.”
However, Iwen mentioned, it’s vital to know what mutations are occurring and the way this impacts the unfold of the virus in Nebraska. He and Abdalhamid mentioned they’re optimistic that present and upcoming vaccines will successfully inoculate sufferers towards new SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Recent news reports, nonetheless, have indicated that each present and trial vaccines are displaying decrease efficacy in research performed in South Africa, the place officers final yr recognized one of many main variants now circulating.
In line with UNMC and Nebraska Public Well being Laboratory researchers, this discovering demonstrates the significance of entire gene sequencing, as understanding modifications within the virus might result in a mutation-specific remedy or vaccine sooner or later.