A genome sequencing lab to detect variants of the coronavirus is likely to become operational at Lok Nayak Hospital in the first week of July while the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) is ready to begin sequencing a small number of samples, hospital officials said.
As part of Delhi’s preparation for a possible third Covid wave, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had announced earlier this month that two genome sequencing labs were in the process of being set up at Lok Nayak Hospital and ILBS.
The spread of the Delta Plus variant, categorised as a ‘Variant of Concern’ by the Union Health Ministry, is currently under scrutiny in the country. So far, the variant has been detected in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Jammu, Karnataka and Haryana.
Dr Suresh Kumar, Medical Director of Lok Nayak Hospital, said training personnel for conducting genome sequencing at the hospital is underway. “We are planning to operationalise the lab in the first week of July. The gene sequencing machine has been imported from Singapore and training is ongoing on using it. We already have several ICMR projects on molecular work happening in the hospital, and PhD students, so we have personnel to conduct the sequencing,” he said.
Emphasising the importance of genome sequencing in the current fight against Covid-19, ILBS Director Dr SK Sarin said, “The most important thing will be genome surveillance because the virus is likely to mutate at a very fast rate, and while the UK sequences 30% of Covid samples, we sequence less than 5%. ILBS is one of the regional labs of INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia), which is monitoring genome sequencing in India and will also be doing it for the Delhi government. We have some sequencing facilities for some other projects, we have bio-informatic capabilities at hand, and can start in a small way in two-three days once we get samples from the government, maybe 10-20 per week for now. However, we need to be set up for a larger sample size.”
He stated that the Delhi government is currently in the process of collecting samples for sequencing from different regions of the capital.