Brad Wouters, executive vice-president of science and research at University Health Network, said failing to do this will only make getting the pandemic under control more difficult.
“The window is closing, we know there is community spread,” Wouters said.
“There is an urgent need for us to go find these variants.”
To find a variant, positive cases of COVID-19 are run through a second sequencing process to get a closer look at the genetic code. The challenge is that this process typically takes awhile to complete.
But researchers said a technology used at a research lab in Toronto can speed things up.
“We need a different approach to go after and find them, find every single one of them, and respond to it. That’s where this technology comes in,” said Wouters.
The technology developed at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Sinai Health System, was not originally intended for COVID-19, but senior investigator Jeff Wrana realized the platform they were using could be pivoted to detect variants with speed and accuracy.
“It’s kind of like you are reading Lord of the Rings and you want to find out what did Frodo do with the ring,” Wrana said. “You just focus on the one chapter where Frodo throws the ring into the fire.”
The bottom line is researchers can quickly zero in on the genetic code to see if a variant of concern is present.
Because the process is faster, more samples can be tested, more variants can be found, and those results can get back to public health officials faster than traditional sequencing currently being used.
“You concentrate the problem down to sequencing just a handful of strains, just a handful of samples instead of trying to sequence thousands of samples,” said Wrana.
Wouters said even though overall case numbers might be going down, it is possible for variant spread to be increasing in the background. That is why he believes more testing is needed.
“We have two options: we can go out and find them now, and put additional measures in place to stop those variants,” Wouters said, “…or we can wait until the variants take over, and force society into an even stronger lockdown than we are in now.”View link »