Genome sequencing labs in Visayas, Mindanao may start ops in January

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Genome sequencing labs in Visayas, Mindanao may start ops in January
This undated National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH handout photo obtained August 1, 2021, shows a transmission electron color-enhanced micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient.
Handout / National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The genome sequencing laboratories in Visayas and Mindanao may begin their operations in January, in a bid to expand the country’s capacity to detect COVID-19 variants, an official said Saturday.

Employees of the genome sequencing laboratories in Visayas and Mindanao have already undergone training, and they are now waiting for the arrival of equipment needed to process specimens, according to Philippine Genome Center executive director Cynthia Saloma.

“The best estimate is really in January that they will be able to do this (genome sequencing) in the regions,” Saloma said in a briefing.

The government earlier approved a budget amounting to P295.7 million for the expansion of PGC’s genome sequencing efforts in Visayas and Mindanao.

Currently, all genomic sequencing is done by the PGC in its main laboratory in the University of the Philippines Diliman. Saloma said the PGC’s main facility can sequence 1,500 samples weekly.

The emergence of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 has put the spotlight back on the importance of strengthening genomic sequencing worldwide.

Genomic biosurveillance plays a critical role in a government's pandemic response as it tracks how a virus is transmitted, as well as determines if COVID-19 variants are causing spikes in cases and if there are local transmission of the variants.

Philippine authorities have yet to detect a case of the heavily mutated Omicron variant. But Saloma called for vigilance and continued compliance with health protocols.

“It’s not a question of if it’s here. It’s a question of when. That’s why we need to be prepared and improve our healthcare facilities,” Saloma said.

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