New Delhi: Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal inaugurated the Delhi government’s second laboratory to sequence genomes of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) in south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, a day after he flagged off the first such facility at the Lok Nayak hospital. “I feel that the people of Delhi will highly benefit from this facility,” said CM Kejriwal. He tweeted that with the help of these labs, the identification and severity of any new variant of coronavirus can be detected. Delhiites will get a lot of benefits from this technology during the pandemic period.
ILBS Director Dr. Shiv Kumar Sarin explained that ILBS preserves the RNA of positive COVID-19 samples and it will be able to sequence them in entirety, all its 30,000 molecules, results will be available in 5-7 days. The Delhi Govt has approved the NovaSeq machine for ILBS which will be able to sequence hundreds of samples in a week. This facility by the Delhi government will also help in the classification of new strains or variants of the Coronavirus, based on the genomic data. Health Minister Satyendar Jain and ILBS Director Dr Shiv Kumar Sarin accompanied CM Kejriwal in initiating the launch of Genome Sequencing facility at ILBS.
Addressing the media post his visit, CM Kejriwal said, “It is with immense pride and happiness that I announce the start of a laboratory at ILBS for the purpose of genome sequencing to identify and analyse the COVID-19 variants. The lab has already been set up and the first set of results will come in the next 4-5 days. Yesterday, we launched a similar laboratory in LNJP hospital, but this is going to be an even more advanced one. I really feel that the people of Delhi will highly benefit from this lab and the facility that it will cater to. Until now, we were dependent on NCDC and other centres of the central government for this sequencing. But now, we are independent and will be able to identify the variants on time and take the right actions so as to strategize our plans for any of the next waves, if at all they come.”
The facility will help in generating state of the art whole genome sequence data of SARS CoV2 virus for identification and screening of new strains and variants with clinical significance, circulating in and around Delhi NCR region. This facility can sequence nearly all 30,000 molecules of the Coronavirus, in fact, the whole length of the virus. By doing this we can find out any mutations in any part of the virus, not merely the spike protein area. The facility at ILBS is equipped with the latest machines called NextSeq and MiSeq. These facilities can sequence whole virus to the tune of 400 sequences per week. The Govt of Delhi has approved a new machine for ILBS, the NovaSeq, which will allow it to sequence hundreds of viral sequences every week. These facilities will also help in classification of new strains or variants of the Coronavirus, based on the genomic data.
CM Kejriwal took to Twitter to announce this further and stated, “In view of the preparations for the future, today the second Genome Sequencing facility of the Delhi Government has been started in ILBS. With the help of these labs, the identification and severity of any new variant of coronavirus can be detected. Delhiites will get a lot of benefit from this technology during the pandemic period.”
Dr. Shiv Kumar Sarin, Director of ILBS Hospital explained the process in detail and said, “After the RTPCR tests are done, we preserve the RNA and sequence their virus. Let’s say there are 100 people diagnosed COVID positive, we will be able to sequence five of those tests in entirety, all the 30,000 molecules. After the sequencing, we will be able to identify through the results whether the variant is new or an existing one. It’s not that every variant is extremely dangerous, but we need to be well informed about the new cases that are coming in Delhi and their variants. We already have more than 1,00,000 samples from the previous months and upon the requests of the health minister or the Chief Minister, we can sequence a portion of them as well. We can sequence more than 300 samples in a week and within 5 to 7 days their results can be made available.”
Dr. Sarin further informed that ILBS has the one of the most modern instruments, accessories, processing laboratories and quality control practices in place for starting an endeavour of this magnitude. He said that ILBS is also part of the national network INSACOG, and maintains national standards.
RT-PCR positive samples collected as nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs from different districts in Delhi will be transported to ILBS and Genome sequencing for the same will be done in timely manner and report will be dispatched to IDSP Delhi on regular basis. Continuous virological surveillance by Genome sequencing of SARS CoV2 will help in keeping a check on the circulating viral strain as well as help in timely identification and detection of any new variant in the city and also prepare Delhi to combat any further wave of Covid – 19 infections in a better manner. It is with this purpose that the Delhi Government is going to start genome sequencing for SARS CoV2 at ILBS.
COVID RT-PCR laboratory at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences was the first ICMR certified Delhi Govt laboratory to start RT-PCR testing in Delhi. Till date, nearly 2.5 lakh samples have been tested with around 13% positivity rate for SARS CoV-2 at ILBS.
As the world is going through one of the biggest health pandemics ever witnessed, creating social and economic disruption globally, genomic sequencing remains the foundational tool for understanding how the virus is evolving and how our defenses against it need to adapt. It is a technology that helps in deciphering and identifying changing viral strains of common human viruses. Genome sequencing of SARS CoV2 will help in identifying the strains, which are more life threatening with increased rate of infectivity and severity of clinical outcome.