New York Metropolis hardly assessments for virus variants. Can that change?
“Our machines can process thousands or hundreds of thousands,” said Dr. Neville Sanjana, scientist with a laboratory at the New York Genome Center in Lower Manhattan. “So capacity is not the problem.”
The problem for research laboratories – strangely enough, amid a pandemic that has likely infected more than a quarter of New Yorkers – is access to samples. New York does not have a large-volume pipeline of positive virus samples from hospitals or testing sites to research laboratories for genetic monitoring.
“It’s really just about organizing this sample collection – that’s what I think is missing,” said Dr. Sanjana, whose research included finding drugs that could block the infection by blocking the human genes that the coronavirus hijacks.
Scientists said in interviews that the city or some other facility needs to essentially split the current coronavirus testing process. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers provide swab specimens every day, which are typically sent to some large laboratories for testing. If these labs could put some of the samples aside, those parts could later be used for genome sequencing if they turn out positive.
“It is solvable, but it takes resources and it takes people to coordinate,” said Professor Heguy as she listed the steps to take: part of the original sample would have to be set aside; RNA would have to be isolated from it; and someone would have to transport the RNA samples to a lab to do the genome sequencing.
To add at least ten times the sequencing of the city, a number of large and small outside laboratories and research projects need to be brought in. The city expects most of the genome sequencing to take place in a laboratory in Long Island City, Queens, run by a small robotics company.
Opentrons also operates a facility in Manhattan called the Pandemic Response Laboratory. This lab was built last year to help the city resolve the testing crisis that emerged in the summer when large commercial labs struggled to cope with the increasing drop load. People had to wait several days and sometimes a week or two for the results of the coronavirus test. The lab is now testing 20,000 samples a day.