Mumbai: BMC to start genome sequencing laboratory at Kasturba hospital

For the first time, civic-run Kasturba hospital is starting genome sequencing to check the various strains of coronavirus and their impact on humans. Moreover, the civic body has also decided to conduct research on coronavirus for which they will form an expert committee who will analyse various strains of Covid-19, their impact on humans etc.

Genome sequencing involves analysis of the genetic code of the virus, which helps scientists find the exact location where a mutation has taken place. Mutations in specific proteins of the virus tend to make it more virulent. The sequencing will help in analysing its virulence as well as its spreading pattern. Genome sequencing is both time consuming and expensive, costing Rs 7,000 to Rs 12,000 per sample.

Suresh Kakani, Additional Municipal Commissioner said that they are starting a research facility in Kasturba for genome sequencing of the virus found in clusters of cases. For which they will be holding meetings with all stakeholders so that it starts immediately. Moreover, they will also chalk out several strategies to handle cases with different mutants.

“With this initiative, our dependency on the National Institute of Virology and Centres for Disease Control will be reduced. Our main aim is to help the state identify the number of active strains in Mumbai, their effect on human bodies and determine the change in treatment protocol or public health strategies required to contain the spread. Moreover, we are also planning to open a Super speciality hospital for the treatment of various diseases,” he said.

Kakani further said BMC’s Kasturba molecular diagnostic lab is tying up with Haystack Analytics, a start-up of IIT-Bombay, to perform in-house sequencing. So far, 40 samples have been sequenced under the collaboration. IIT has received 200 samples for this purpose. “We plan to look at samples taken from one neighbourhood or family clusters to see if a specific mutation is driving the transmission pattern. However, samples can deteriorate while being transported to another city or get exposed to varying temperatures. We have limited resources that we need to judiciously use. We will use strict criteria for selecting samples for sequencing,” he added.

The laboratory will procure a Nanopore sequencing technology, which does not need huge investment and is cost-effective if more samples are processed in one go. The other two common sequencing technologies are Illumina and Ion Torrent.

Meanwhile, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recently confirmed the presence of a double mutant variant in the tested samples, but also said that the data was not enough to attribute the surge to it. “The double mutant variant has been found in 206 samples in Maharashtra. It is high in Nagpur, at 20% of the samples, but there is not enough data to correlate it with the nature of the surge,” said a senior health official from the state health department.

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