MORGANTOWN – Infectious disease experts from the University of West Virginia and Marshall University will join to identify and track variants of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in West Virginia in hopes of preparing and preventing future epidemics.
National Institutes of Health grant of $ 678,030 will help researchers perform genome sequence analyzes to identify COVID-19 variants by leveraging three existing testing programs: Rapid acceleration of diagnosis in underserved populations , surveillance tests among residents and nursing home staff, and WVU tests.
Project investigators include Dr Sally Hodder of WVU, Peter Stoilov of WVU, Don Primerano of Marshall and Jim Denvir of Marshall to sequence COVID-19 samples with the aim of understanding the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 variants. in West Virginia.
âThe objective of this project is to describe the emergence and spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in counties and communities in West Virginia. Hodder, the project’s principal investigator, said.
Hodder is the Director of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Institute and Associate Vice President for Clinical and Translational Science at WVU.
“This information will help public health officials understand how the prevalence of different variants changes over time and whether there are unique distributions of variants between different regions of the state.” Hodder said.
The project also relies on a cohesive statewide team led by Laura Gibson, Senior Associate Vice President for Research and Higher Education and Associate Dean for Research at the WVU School of Medicine. Gibson has worked tirelessly since the onset of the pandemic to establish the WVU Rapid Development Lab to develop and scale up SARS-CoV-2 testing.
In the spring of 2021, the team initiated sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 in collaboration with the WVU Pathology Department, WVU Genomics Core and the Marshall University Genomics Core.
âSequencing provides a detailed picture of the SARS-Cov-2 variants that we have in the population, how they spread and how they change over time. “ Stoilov, associate professor of biochemistry, said. âThe sequencing is part of a multi-faceted effort by WVU to understand the pandemic and help the state of West Virginia fight it. When combined with data on infection rates, clinical outcomes, vaccination status, etc., it gives us information that allows us to predict the course of the pandemic and act preventively. “
Earlier this year, Stoilov compared genomic sequencing to putting together a puzzle and imagining viral RNA as a single component split into a million pieces. By reassembling the pieces together, if there is a chipped corner or if one piece does not fit perfectly, it is a mutation or variant of the virus.
Stoilov is leading COVID-19 testing and sequencing efforts at WVU-RDL.
The WVCTSI bioinformatics group, led by Wes Kimble, director of research data analysis, has built and maintains a sequencing database that can be linked to electronic patient records for further research into the effects that variations may have on specific patient outcomes.
The population of West Virginia may be highly vulnerable to emerging variants that impact the efficacy of vaccines and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. Large-scale genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 will provide data that can be used with other existing data to help understand the effect of specific variants on COVID-19 transmission and disease severity.
Researchers plan to sequence around 8,000 SARS-Cov-2 genomes, most of which is completed within the first five months of this project.