COVID-19

Genome-sequencing laboratory to open in UP-Mindanao

Grace Cantal-Albasin
Genome-sequencing laboratory to open in UP-Mindanao

NEW STRAIN. The Philippine Genome Center finds the D614G coronavirus genotype reported to have a 'fitness advantage' in test samples from Quezon City. Virus photo from NIAID-RML, Rappler file photo of lab

The laboratory will open for a dry run at the UP-Mindanao campus in Davao, a move which officials say could expedite whole-genome sequencing and analyses of specimens taken from people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Mindanao

BUKIDNON, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH), the University of the Philippines in Mindanao, and the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) are set on opening a genome-sequencing laboratory in Davao City this February to speed up work on the detection of COVID-19 variants in Mindanao.

The laboratory is scheduled to open for a dry run at the UP-Mindanao campus in Barangay Mintal in Davao, a move which officials said could expedite whole-genome sequencing and analyses of specimens taken from people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Mindanao.

UP-Diliman is host to the Philippine Genome Center that has been overwhelmed by specimens taken from COVID-19 patients and sent to it for analyses from all over the country.

Dr. Rachel Pasion, head of the DOH’s Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit in the Davao region, said the new laboratory would enable experts to identify variants, monitor how these change over time, understand how the changes affect the character of the virus and provide information that may be used in the government’s response.

She said the new laboratory would reduce the time of analyzing and releasing test results that usually take three to four weeks, long after those who tested positive for COVID-19 were already certified recovered.

“The UP-PGC has been overwhelmed with samples for whole-genome sequencing, resulting in late results. Davao sent its 35 samples in December, and got the results [last] week,” Pasion said. 

The dry run would have been done in January but the delivery of more equipment was delayed because of the Typhoon Odette (Rai) devastation in some areas of Mindanao and the Visayas.

“We are now waiting for the additional equipment to test this genome laboratory in Mindanao. We hope that when this becomes operational, we could at least get closer to real-time sequencing results,” Pasion said.

Local officials welcomed the announcement, saying it would help Davao and other areas in Mindanao in handling people infected by COVID-19 and its more transmissible variants.

Davao City has seen a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases which Mayor Sara Duterte has described as the “4th surge” in the city. –Rappler.com

Grace Cantal-Albasin is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship