MTU Secures Funding to Expand State Sequencing for COVID-19 | News, Sports, Jobs


Michigan Governor’s Office via AP In a photo provided by the Michigan Governor’s Office, Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state’s health department, speaks to the state on February 4, 2021. Hertel announced on Wednesday that Michigan Technological University was one of four Michigan universities. who will receive funding from the CDC to sequence COVID-19.

HOUGHTON – Michigan Technological University is one of four Michigan universities that will receive funding from the CDC over the next two years to strengthen the state’s capacity to collect and analyze genetic data on COVID-19 and other infectious diseases to improve the state’s ability to respond.

Tech, Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University to receive $ 18.5 million for the Michigan Sequencing Academic Partnership for Public Health Innovation and Response (MI-SAPPHIRE) project, which will include genome sequencing for SARS-Cov -2 and other diseases with the potential for spread, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said on Wednesday. This will allow the state to have a faster picture of the emergence of variants such as omicron, said Elizabeth Hertel, MDDHS director.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and need for genomic sequencing, surveillance and epidemiology capabilities both around the world and right here in Michigan.” she said in a statement. “The MDHHS Laboratory Office quickly intensified its efforts to identify variants of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in order to support public health actions. MI-SAPPHIRE will enable our state to expand sequencing and analytical capacity and the number of pathogens that undergo routine sequencing, and ensure that we sample various geographies across the state. “

The state lab has sequenced 23,000 COVID-19 samples since March 2020. The University of Michigan lab has also performed sequencing throughout the pandemic to provide information on COVID-19 variants, a declared the MDHHS.

“It will be extremely great to now have all four universities with the capacity for sequencing, where in the past most of the sequencing was done by the only state laboratory,” said Caryn Heldt, director of Tech’s Health Research Institute and head of the new sequencing lab. Heldt said Tech’s experience running a COVID-19 testing lab on campus was likely a factor in the selection. About twenty teachers, students and technicians will be part of the project.

Each university will contribute to the sequencing; what they do with this sequencing will depend on their strengths, Heldt said.

Through Tech’s School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, the university will have particular expertise in diseases transmitted from animals to humans, Heldt said. The College of Computing will also provide an IT infrastructure for data processing and storage.

“These are very large datasets, so we have to store, catalog and evaluate all these genomic sequences”, she said.

The College of Science and Arts and the College of Engineering are also involved. This project and the COVID testing lab involved collaboration across the university, Heldt said.

“There’s not a lot of overlap on who is going to work in the sequencing lab and who is working in the COVID lab. “ said Heldt. “So it has been an amazing experience for me to help lead these two projects, where we are just able to look through the university, find the expertise we need and have such a big contribution. and such interest from different researchers across the university. “

Tech will build a larger sequencing lab with more equipment and work with local vendors such as the local health department and hospitals to create a sample pipeline, Heldt said.

Universities will be able to sequence any new potential threats that arise, as well as pathogens already known to exist in the community. Locally, this will include drug-resistant gonorrhea, which has been identified in the Upper Peninsula, as well as zoonotic diseases such as bird flu, Heldt said.

“We look forward to working with local healthcare providers in the health department as we develop this sequencing capability, and we really look forward to continuing to support our community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and all future need “ she said. “Michigan Tech is honored to be such an important resource to the community.”

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