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Under the microscope: Supporting the COVID-19 response with NGS

Posted: 11 September 2020 | | No comments yet

Responding efficiently to urgent situations is of utmost importance in times of crisis. Dr Suvarna Gandlur, Associate Director of Takara Bio’s next-generation sequencing (NGS) portfolio, discusses how the company is contributing to the COVID-19 effort and supporting the scientific community.

What are your thoughts on the scientific community’s response to the current coronavirus outbreak?

The scientific community has delivered an explosion of excellent R&D during  this time. Furthermore, the pandemic has brought scientists together from across the globe. Multiple consortia have been established to understand the epidemiology and infection processes related to this virus  and the collaborative efforts of the scientific community is commendable.

How can NGS be used during viral pandemics and what insights can NGS provide to researchers?

What we are learning during this pandemic is that the viral genome is constantly evolving. The evolution of the virus gives us strong insights into how it is spreading and its impact on different people. Routine testing methods such as qPCR are essential for viral detection in the population and play a large role in flattening the curve. However, standard qPCR methods are unable to decipher the changes in the viral genome. Furthermore, susceptibility to COVID-19 is possibly linked to human genetics. It is vital to understand the interactions between viral and host genomes to help identify individuals most at risk, while improving chances for the development of therapies and vaccines. NGS gives us this deeper understanding of the disease and the impact on human health.

Why is it important to understand the effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection?

Firstly, it will enable us to accelerate biomarker, therapeutic and vaccine discovery. It will also help inform the decisions of public health authorities. It is important to understand the underlying genomics of the individual, as we have already learnt that race, ethnicity and other genetic conditions influence the infection process as well as disease progression and prognosis. We are also learning that while an individual may be ‘COVID-free’ after a few weeks, the virus leaves a longer lasting impact on the health of the person. Understanding these side effects of viral infection are therefore critical for wellbeing.

How has Takara Bio responded to the current outbreak?

Takara Bio realised very quickly on that there was a shortage of testing reagents available for research. To ensure that the researchers felt a minimal impact on finding important reagents, Takara Bio responded quickly by increasing the supply of enzymes critical for developing and running testing methods.

A significant number of studies are also being funded to understand the genetic changes in the virus itself as it spreads across communities. Takara Bio has responded by participating in research organisation discussions on what tools would be best suited for these applications. For example, one of our NGS kits, SMARTer® Stranded Total RNA-Seq Kit v2 – Pico Input Mammalian, has been successfully used to capture viral genomic information in samples using its random priming technology paired with ZapR technology. Takara Bio is additionally supporting studies that are involved in understanding the underlying immune response to the virus. Production of kits that support these types of studies have been ramped up to meet the need.

What impact will Takara Bio’s NGS offering have on human health (immediately or in the future)?

Understanding the impact of infection on cells, tissues and immune response is what is important for better human health. Takara Bio is committed to making products that will enable customers to conduct these types of studies.

What makes your products stand out from the crowd?

We pride ourselves in making products that are designed to work with challenging samples and wide range of input amounts. Our products are developed with strong, reliable performance in mind.

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