University of Ghana to investigate immune response of Novel Coronavirus, after genomes sequencing

Prof. Gordon Awandare

Yesterday April 11, 2020, the University of Ghana announced a major contribution by Ghanaian scientists to the fight against the Novel Coronavirus. The COVID-19 causing virus ravaging the world, and causing fear and panic.

Most countries of the world are in lockdown and economic activities are mostly on hold, as countries urge citizens to social distance and stay at home to halt the spread of infections.

There are races to find vaccines and cures for the disease. But for now social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, not shaking hands and other acts are being encouraged as means to curtail the spread.

According to the Johns Hopkins University, as at Sunday April 12, 2020, 16:48GMT nearly 1.8 million people in the world are confirmed infected by the virus and more than 110,000 have died.

In Ghana, there are 408 confirmed positive cases and 8 deaths.

The University announced that its scientists have successfully sequenced genomes of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, obtaining important information about the genetic composition of viral strains in 15 of the confirmed cases in Ghana.

The University noted that the scientists, who work at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR – College of Health Sciences) and the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP – College of Basic and Applied Sciences) at the University, analyzed samples from selected cases to gain a comprehensive understanding of the variations of the virus that are present in the country.

Genome sequencing allows for the compilation of the most comprehensive information about an organism’s genetic makeup. Using advanced next-generation sequencing methods, scientists are able to track and compare viral mutations to understand the origins of imported strains and to discover if any novel strains are emerging locally, the University said in a news release.

One of the scientists who worked on the research, Prof Gordon Awandare who also heads the WACCBIP, spoke to in an exclusive interview.

Question: What do you think this research on the Novel Coronavirus will mean for the collaborative work between WACCBIP and Noguchi?

Prof. Awandare: “This work is a demonstration of what can be achieved if scientists work together with a common purpose and with total commitment to serving the interest of our people.

This research will strengthen our partnership and hopefully lead to the generation of even more transformative findings.”

Question: Considering that your organisations achieved this research feat with limited resources, how much more can you do, if you have the required resources ie, funding, equipment and scientists?

Prof.: “We are quite fortunate to be supported by the Government of Ghana, through the World Bank African Centres of Excellence programme, and several other global funding agencies such as the Wellcome Trust, African Academy of Sciences and the UK National Institute of Health Research.

However, what is required is sustained funding which will allow us to work at a higher level consistently. With sustained funding, we will be better placed to compete with the top research institutions in the world. We have a team of very talented and enthusiastic young scientists, and with the necessary support we can drive high quality research that will lead to innovations for Africa.”

Question: Are you planning on any further work on the Novel Coronavirus?

Prof.: “Yes, we have several studies planned, including further sequencing as well as investigating the immune responses to the virus.”

Question: What’s the next step for your two institutions after this genomes sequencing research?

Prof.: “More sequencing, testing, further research to provide as much information as possible to help understand the virus so that we can plan adequately to control the pandemic.”

Question: How do you feel right now, having contributed through this research to the global efforts to understand and fight this pandemic?

Prof.: “We are encouraged, but these are just the first steps and we will keep pushing ahead with greater determination.”

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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