Tech to partner with GSU, LSUHS to track COVID-19 variants

Louisiana Tech University will partner with LSU Health Shreveport (LSUHS) and Grambling State University (GSU) to establish a regional hub to share SARSCoV-2 genomic data for cases of COVID-19 in north Louisiana. This partnership will increase the reach of a Rockefeller Foundation program designed to strengthen global capabilities to detect and respond to pandemic threats.

As COVID-19 variants continue to drive surges of outbreaks, reliable viral genome sequencing will help accelerate timely analysis and inform response measures to keep countries one step ahead of the virus and counter emerging threats in the future. The three teams will work together to build trust-based relationships with underrepresented communities and the organizations that serve their needs and increase the ability of health-care providers to respond quickly when a pandemic threatens.

“Fast, accurate genomic sequencing information is the key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and the suffering it has caused. Yet today only 14 countries, all of which have developed economies, are sequencing five percent or more of their cases and sharing them through global databases,” said Rajiv J. Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. “For that reason, The Rockefeller Foundation is strengthening global sequencing capacity – to end this pandemic for all as soon as possible.”

People who do not enjoy regular access to health care may not understand why they should participate in projects like this one, according to Dr. Jamie Newman, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Applied and Natural Sciences.

“Individuals may not trust what scientists and governments are doing with their samples,” Newman said. “Developing trust with communities – particularly marginalized and underserved ones – is necessary when we work to bring together data that truly represents a community and allows for appropriate decisions in public health to be made and resources to then be equitably distributed.”

Both Louisiana Tech and GSU, with efforts led by Newman and Dr. Paul Kim respectively, will work to develop outreach activities, educational materials, and public dashboards to share the basic concepts associated with viral genome sequencing. The universities will also establish, maintain, and harness partnerships with local organizations, like the Lincoln Health Foundation and the Health Hut, and private entities to provide high quality testing and sequencing for minority and marginalized communities. Dr. Jeremy Kamil at LSUHS will serve as the project leader.

“Our long-term goal is to help establish a sustainable framework for ongoing monitoring capacity,” Newman said. “Throughout the pandemic, Tech’s Centers of Excellence have been integral in helping to build bridges between health-care providers and the populations they serve.”

The partnership with LSUHS and GSU will be a logical extension of Louisiana Tech’s prior work with state and local health care organizations and research partners to slow the spread of COVID-19, increase vaccinations, and discuss good health and safety practices, said Dr. Sumeet Dua, Associate Vice President for Research and Partnerships.

“Collaborations like this one allow each partner to make a positive impact on our community,” Dua said. “Our efforts at ensuring the health of our community and neighbors in this region are more effective collectively than when we work separately.”

“As the virus evolves, we have to ensure that vaccines, our best tools for stopping it and its deadly toll on individuals, families and communities, remain effective,” said Dr. Rick Bright, Senior Vice President of Pandemic Preparedness at The Rockefeller Foundation. “Rapidly sharing genomic sequencing information from all corners of the globe enables us to see and understand how the virus is changing and adapt our tools accordingly. Without this information we risk the pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on our lives.”


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