Kozhikode Medical College’s research helps Kerala battle Covid variants

Government Medical College  Kozhikode has earned recognition for helping the state carry out genomic surveillance during the height of Covid infection.

Published: 05th September 2022 06:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th September 2022 06:58 AM   |  A+A-

A woman provides swab samples for Covid test. Representative purpose only. (File photo)

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:  An in-house method developed by a research wing of the Government Medical College (GMC) in Kozhikode has earned recognition for helping the state carry out genomic surveillance during the height of Covid infection.

This helped the health department detect the emergence of new variants, including Delta and Omicron. The method developed by the multidisciplinary research unit (MRU) not only allowed cost-effective surveillance but also gave results faster, helping the authorities intervene quickly since 2021. The results of the study were published in Frontiers, a peer-reviewed international journal for public health, last week.

The MRU got into the act when continuous monitoring became a necessity during Covid. Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) is the gold standard for detection of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 that have immune-escape properties, high infectivity and variable severity. However, there were hurdles before the health department to carry out WGS. “We used to send samples to labs in Delhi or Pune. It was costly and time-consuming, and affected the intervention required on the ground. The decision to try the innovative method came during a discussion of the expert committee on Covid management,” said pathologist Dr K P Aravindan, a member of the committee.

Instead of WGS, scientists at MRU developed methods to study only a specific portion of the virus which has the maximum possibility for a variant-causing mutation. The processes involved in the MRU are not new, but the scientists there combined different methods for standardisation of the tests.

“The success of MRU shows that this method is possible as a practical solution for surveillance in labs with similar facilities (Sanger Sequence),” said Aravindan. The project started off with the Kozhikode GMC analysing samples from other districts when the health department took keen interest. The faster analysis helped reduce quarantine period of patients, especially those who came from abroad during an outbreak there, because of the facility at the MRU.

Kozhikode GMC head of the department (emergency medicine) Dr R Chandini said: “When there was an outbreak, we could quickly identify if it was due to the existing variant or a new one by testing the samples. When it became clear that Omicron had replaced Delta, we were able to avoid costly treatment intervention such as the use of monoclonal antibodies as it is effective only against the Delta variant,” she said.

She said the facility will be of use if there is another outbreak. “When patients come up with a different set of symptoms, we can check whether it is due to a new variant. If a new one is identified, we can alert the authorities and ensure measures for containment,” said Dr Chandini.

Dhananjayan Dhanasooraj, Prasanth Viswanathan, Shammy Saphia, Beena Philomina Jose, among others, contributed to the research paper. The MRU study shows that Delta peaked in Kerala from July to August, 2021, and became almost rare by January, 2022. Omicron reached its peak in January-February, 2022. The results showed similar patterns to the data from other states and countries during the same period.

India Matters


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