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PH Genome Center in Visayas, Mindanao starts sequencing – DOH

/ 05:36 PM March 15, 2022
PH Genome Center in Visayas, Mindanao starts sequencing – DOH

FILE PHOTO: Dozens of molecular biologists, medical technicians, and computer scientists work round the clock at the PGC laboratory in UP Diliman, Quezon City, to conduct biosurveillance, including finding significant mutations in the virus’ spike protein. CONTRIBUTED/ UP PHILIPPINE GENOME CENTER

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday announced that the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) in Visayas and Mindanao can now sequence the genome of SARS-CoV-2 to identify variants in the two major islands.

SARS-CoV-2 is the latest strain of coronavirus first detected in China in late 2019. It causes COVID-19, a serious respiratory illness, and has mutated into different variants like Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron, among others.

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The DOH said satellite offices of PGC in the University of the Philippines (UP) Visayas and in UP Mindanao will enable easier access for genome sequencing. Prior to this development, the DOH reported that some regions encountered transportation issues in submitting samples to the PGC facility in Metro Manila.

“No one can predict mutations of a virus-like SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19. We need genomic biosurveillance to help keep our health system ready for any possible new variants and to track the behavior of existing ones. PGC’s network in Luzon, and now Visayas and Mindanao supports this,” UP-PGC Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma said in a statement.

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According to DOH, the satellite offices have already started genome sequencing services of nasopharyngeal (nasal) or oropharyngeal (oral) swab samples from DOH-licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories in cooperation with the DOH-Epidemiology Bureau (DOH-EB), to detect SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating in the Visayas and Mindanao regions.

To date, UP-PGC Visayas has successfully sequenced more than 300 samples and has submitted the results to the DOH-EB for analysis and endorsement to the Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Units (RESUs).

The RESUs are then expected to report the sequencing results to their respective local government units (LGUs) to put into place a well-planned strategy to mitigate the transmission of circulating variants in the concerned areas.

Meanwhile, in February, 98 extracted SARS-CoV-2 RNA samples have already been transported by RESU Davao to PGC Mindanao for processing for whole-genome sequencing, the DOH said. The samples were analyzed using the bioinformatics pipeline technology and results were forwarded to the DOH-EB.

“This milestone of the UP-PGC Visayas and Mindanao helps us improve outbreak determination, monitor virus transmission, and streamline disease surveillance. It helps protect the country from COVID-19 in particular and also improves health and disease surveillance in general for all Filipinos,” said DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

“We fervently hope that with all these efforts, the current pandemic will end soon, and that we will be better prepared for future outbreaks of any scale. Let us stay the course and continue to strengthen our health system, so that we can live safely as we slowly transition to the new normal,” she added.

The government earlier approved a P295.7-million budget for the expansion of the PGC in Visayas and Mindanao.

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TAGS: COVID-19, genome sequencing, Mindanao, Philippine Genome Center, SARS-CoV-2, Visayas
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