The genome sequencing facility at Lok Nayak Hospital's genetic laboratory in Delhi will be beneficial not only to the capital but also to the rest of northern India.
In June, the SMS Medical College in Jaipur had begun genome sequencing, making Rajasthan the first state to have its own such lab.
The Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal inaugurated a novel coronavirus genome sequencing facility at Lok Nayak Hospital's genetic laboratory on 7 July. It is now believed that this new facility will assist the government in identifying and analysing all the variants of the novel virus in the event of future waves, as well as to organise and prepare ahead of time to avoid deaths and more Covid-19 cases.
Genome sequencing plays a critical role in understanding a virus, as well as its variants, and helps to prepare a plan of action. A genome is an organism's genetic material. A virus genome is made of either DNA or its close cousin RNA (Ribonucleic acid). Coronaviruses are RNA viruses, and the newly discovered SARS-CoV-2 has a single 30,000-letter-long RNA strand. Using a technique known as sequencing, these letters can be read one by one by the researchers. Virus genomes are constantly altering or mutating, changing a few letters at a time as they divide and infect more people. By sequencing, recording and analysing genomes, these changes can be used to track the virus's spread.
According to experts, if virus genome sequencing is done quickly and on a large scale, it can help epidemiologists, and public health officials understand how the virus spreads and evaluate how effective their interventions have been. It can also aid in determining whether new variants are linked to specific patterns of symptoms or disease severity. Researchers also believe that in the longer term, tracking new variants is likely to be critical to ensuring that vaccines can be kept up to date with the variants that are currently circulating.
In the case of Delhi, which recently witnessed a deadly second wave of Covid-19 and now preparing for a possible third wave, it has relied on the central government's lab National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to test samples from the capital. But now, the new facility—the third such facility established in the northern part of India—is believed to reduce the burden from NCDC.
Delhi CM Kejriwal said that the state government had purchased the Genetic Analyser machine for genome sequencing, and the facility is now operational. After the inauguration ceremony, he stated that "with this machine, we will be able to analyse all the variants of Covid-19 and understand them for any of the future waves or spreads in Delhi if at all they are witnessed". Additionally, the CM said: "If we get to know the variant on time, we will be able to strategise our preparations well and it will be helpful in taking the right actions. We did not have any such facility until today".
The genome sequencing facility in Delhi will be beneficial not only to the capital but also to the rest of northern India. According to The Times of India, Kejriwal said that the people of Delhi would greatly benefit from this machine and praised medical director Dr Suresh Kumar, as well as his team for completing it in such a short period. The Delhi government is also expected to launch a novel coronavirus genome sequencing facility at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Services this week as part of the capital's preparations for a potential third wave of the Covid 19 epidemic.
As reported, this machine would be capable of sequencing 5 to 7 samples per day, with a turnaround time of 4 to 5 days. The newly launched genome sequencing facility will primarily be used for surveillance and public health objectives, as well as the detection of differences of concern in interest. Given the case fatality and re-emergence of Covid-19 outbreaks caused by different SARS-CoV-2 variants—such as Alpha, Delta and now Delta Plus—the facility is being established to aid and address the larger public interest.
In June, it was reported that the SMS Medical College in Jaipur had begun genome sequencing, making Rajasthan the first state to have its own such lab. At that time, Dr Raghu Sharma, the state's Health Minister, said that to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the state has made genome sequencing available that cost Rs 1 crore. Dr Sharma also stated that samples from the state were previously sent to the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) lab in Delhi, which was established for Rajasthan by the central government's Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). According to the fixed limit, 10 samples per day or 300 samples per month were sent, but their reports were not received on time.
He said that the machine at SMS Medical College—started functioning from 15 June—can check 20 samples per day, but soon its capacity will be increased to 80, while the sample reports can be received in 3 to 4 days. However, the availability of such facilities during a deadly pandemic will play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of as many citizens as possible, more specifically at a time when experts have calculated the arrival of the third wave within the next few months.