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State selects UB lab as part of effort to bolster identifying COVID-19 variants


Wed, Jul 28th 2021 03:10 pm

UB’s Genome, Environment and Microbiome Community of Excellence has conducted the only sequencing of COVID-19 variants in Western New York

By the University at Buffalo

A University at Buffalo lab has been selected to bolster New York state’s efforts to identify COVID-19 variants, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday.

UB’s Genome, Environment and Microbiome Community of Excellence was one of five labs chosen statewide as part of a $20 million sequencing partnership between the State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center and external laboratories.

The effort aims to greatly expand genetic sequencing on SARS-CoV-2 positive specimens derived from the general population of New York state, outside of New York City, thus building on the state’s current robust genome/variant surveillance efforts. In addition to surveillance, the data generated will help build the state’s understanding of disease manifestations, therapy or vaccine evasion and efficacy, and will support other discoveries to inform public health intervention.

Sequencing results from the partner laboratories will be reported to the New York State Department of Health and the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data.

“The University at Buffalo is pleased to be selected to contribute to this statewide effort to combat COVID-19,” said Michael E. Cain, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “Our genomics and bioinformatics core has, throughout the pandemic, played a vital role in sequencing SARS-CoV-2 and identifying COVID-19 variants in Western New York.”

The project at UB is being led by Jennifer Surtees, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry in the Jacobs School. Surtees and her colleagues at UB’s New York state Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences have been conducting the only genomic sequencing of COVID-19 samples in Western New York, and are among the few labs in the state (outside of New York City) that have been sequencing throughout the pandemic. Their work has identified the highly transmissible delta variant, among others, in Erie County.

“The more information we have about the viruses circulating in Western New York, the better prepared we are to make public health policy decisions, to respond to the current situation in terms of mitigation measures and clinical decisions and protect our communities,” Surtees said, adding the project wouldn’t have been possible without the university’s investment in the genomics and bioinformatics core.

In April 2020, Surtees began a project to perform genomic sequencing of SARS-Cov2 in Buffalo, in collaboration with the Erie County Department of Health, which provided de-identified samples from COVID-19-positive patients, and the UB genomics and bioinformatics core. 

“We have been sequencing SARS-CoV-2 throughout the pandemic, which has enabled us to infer migration of the virus into Erie County and evolution of the virus in the region,” she said.

The UB team has since expanded its partner network, receiving samples from Kaleida Health, ECMC and KSL Diagnostics.

“This put us in a strong position to partner with New York state in this latest initiative to expand our sequencing capacity,” Surtees said. “We are very excited to be able to continue to contribute to the statewide effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by providing timely public health information.”

In addition to UB, the four other labs selected are at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Cornell University, University of Rochester Medical Center, and New York Medical College.

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