Udayavni Special

10 regional labs including 2 in B’luru identified for genome sequencing to detect new COVID variant

PTI, Dec 29, 2020, 8:53 AM IST

New Delhi/Bengaluru: Ten regional laboratories have been identified by the Centre where states will send five per cent of their COVID-19 positive samples for genome sequencing to detect the new coronavirus variant that has emerged in the United Kingdom recently.

The health ministry has also established the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance and expand whole genome sequencing of the coronavirus in the country, aiding in the understanding of how the virus spreads and evolves.

The emergence of the new coronavirus strain in the UK has required India to increase viral genomic surveillance in order to understand the spread of the virus in a rapid and robust manner.

“The 10 regional genome sequencing laboratories spread across the country will cater to the nearest states, which will send five per cent of the positive samples to these labs for genome sequencing,” stated the Union Health Ministry”s guidance document on genomic sequencing released on Monday.

The viral genome sequencing data generated will be analysed by the respective centres and sent to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Delhi, for collation and integration.

The 10 labs are DBT-National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani (near Kolkata), DBT-Institute of Life Sciences in Bhubhaneshwar, ICMR-National Institute of Virology and DBT-National Centre for Cell Science in Pune, CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and DBT-Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, DBT InSTEM/NCBS, Bengaluru, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences Hospital in Bengaluru, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology and NCDC in Delhi.

The Central Surveillance Unit under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) regularly collects data in a decentralized manner from various states. Such data will be used for selecting the representative positive samples from various regions for genome sequencing, the document stated.

Further, the data from the genome sequencing laboratories will be analysed as per the field data trends to study linkages, if any, between the genomic variants and epidemiological trends.

“This will help in understanding super-spreader events and outbreaks, and strengthen public health interventions across the country to help in breaking the chains of transmission. Linking this data with the IDSP data and patient”s symptoms will allow us to better understand the viral infection dynamics, morbidity and mortality trends,” the ministry said.

According to the action plan, in case the UK variant or any other mutated strain of the coronavirus is detected in any sample, it will be sent to any of the two notified COVID Virus Repositories at RCB Faridabad or NIV, Pune, for its isolation and further culturing.

This can then be shared as per notified guidelines for development of assays, which will help in validation of diagnostics and also testing of the vaccines under development.

The SOPs, which have been developed for the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing sample collection, deposit and sharing in May, 2020 will be adopted, the document stated.

An NCDC nodal unit will maintain a database of all samples of the new variants. The data will be epidemiologically analysed, interpreted and shared with states for investigation, contact tracing and planning response strategies.

The Central Surveillance Unit (CSU) will monitor the trends in various states with regard to identifying super-spreader events and outbreaks. A representative sample of all positive cases in such events will be sent to the designated lab for genome sequencing.

The objectives of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) is to monitor the genomic variations in the coronavirus on a regular basis through a multi-laboratory network. This vital research consortium will also assist in developing potential vaccines in the future.

In the present scenario, it will be pertinent that a genome surveillance is established to ascertain the current status of new variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the country and to establish a sentinel surveillance for early detection of genomic variants with public health implication besides determining the genomic variants in the unusual events, the ministry said.

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