Cracking the code: Saudi researchers fight virus with genetic sequencing

Sun, 2020-03-22 23:58

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is joining the global battle against the
coronavirus (COVID-19) through genetic sequencing in an effort to
identify the source of the genetic strain and reduce the spread of
the disease in the Kingdom.

In the space of a few weeks, scientists have learned a great
deal about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2, but
more information is needed.

With researchers scrambling to find a means of combatting the
spread of the virus, many countries are working to find a vaccine,
with some clinical trials already taking place.

The King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC)
in Riyadh has recently announced that they have successfully
completed the genetic sequence of COVID-19 from a number of
patients. The Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC)
has also successfully done the same.

As part of the global fight against the virus, the Saudi CDC has
announced that the next-generation sequencing technology has helped
identify the origin of the virus and the epidemiological link
between positive cases.

In an interview with Al-Ekhbariyah TV, Dr. Ahmed Albarrag, chief
officer of the public health laboratory at the Saudi CDC, said that
through genetic sequencing, the institute can monitor the rate of
spread and track transmission inside the Kingdom — which will
reduce the infection rate — and also follow up on any genetic
mutation of the virus.

Dr. Hosam Zowawi, a clinical microbiologist at the King Saud bin
Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, told Arab News that the
importance of the genetic sequencing map of COVID-19 lies in
understanding how the it has infected the Saudi population and its
relevance to the existing virus circulating worldwide.

The number of patients that have been tested so far has not been
announced by the Ministry of Health, but several health and
scientific research institutes across the Kingdom have conducted
the same procedure, including the Saudi CDC and KAIMRC.

Zowawi explained that the investigation of microbial genomics is
mainly conducted by looking at the overall picture of the genome.
“In this context, the purpose is to see the link between our
strains as well as the ones that have infected others overseas,”
he told Arab News.

The data helped identify the strains of the virus.

“This is interesting because this way we are able to identify
the source of the strain, we always rely on the clinical
‘story’ and the travel history of the virus by conducting these
technological investigations,” Zowawi said, adding: “As we get
the 100 percent affirmation by the genomics, we have now additional
power that we never had before this DNA age.”

Dr Abdullah Algaissi, virologist and assistant professor at the
college of medical sciences at Jazan University, said:
“Coronaviruses are fragile and more prone for mutations.” He
told Arab News that it is critical that more sequencing is
conducted and shared.

“With more sequencing, we will understand more if there are
emerging cases in the Kingdom“, said Algaissi. “For the cases
announced by the Ministry of Health, we can collect the samples,
identify the source and compare it to data inserted by different
authorities from other countries.”

“You need both epidemiological investigations and genetic
sequencing to identify the source and track contacts,” said
Algaissi.

According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data
database, there are currently over 39,000 coronaviruses sequence
entries, with 1,121 COVID-19 entries.

Through this process, Algaissi told Arab News that they will be
able to identify a means of controlling the disease, but finding a
cure will take up to three years “if it (the virus) does not
mutate,” he noted, adding: “But luckily the virus looks like
it’s stable so far.”

One of the most important questions during outbreaks is to know
how to break the chain of transmission. “By conducting whole
genome sequencing (WGS) on the virus on a certain number of
patients, we can identify the path of disease transmission within
this group and provide information on the probable source,” said
Zowawi.

Molecular tools such as WGS are being utilized and advanced at a
fast rate to provide better methods for identifying, comparing and
classifying pathogenic organisms. The practice is common in the
study of pandemics and epidemics.

With the current number of confirmed cases globally reaching
over 310,000, over 13,000 deaths and over 95,000 recoveries, the
need for clinical trials is vital. The outbreak is gaining steam in
many countries at a dangerous rate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said last Wednesday that it
would launch a multi-country clinical trial for potential
coronavirus therapies. The “SOLIDARITY” trial, it said, was
part of an aggressive effort to initiate the global research for
anti-viral drugs to treat COVID-19.

“Multiple small trials with different methodologies may not
give us the clear, strong evidence we need about which treatments
help to save lives,” said WHO Director General Dr. Tedros
Adhanom, adding: “WHO and its partners are therefore organizing a
study in many countries in which some of these untested treatments
are compared with each other. This large, international study is
designed to generate the robust data we need, to show which
treatments are the most effective. We have called this study the
SOLIDARITY trial.”

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and many of its scientific
institutes have since partnered with the WHO to provide it with the
latest data in an effort to ensure that sources are documented and
released.

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Source: *FS – All – Science News Net
Cracking the code: Saudi researchers fight virus with genetic sequencing