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Friday Jul 16 2021

COVID-19: NIH planning national consortium for data sharing

File photo
File photo

  • Government taking steps to improve data collection and research to better understand coronavirus.
  • NIH is contacting health institutions to form a consortium.
  • Expert says research in molecular genetics and genomic studies is a costly affair, seek financial assistance from government.

KARACHI: The National Institute of Health (NIH) has approached multiple public and private research institutions in the country seeking their input in data sharing related to COVID-19 research for a national consortium, it emerged Friday.

According to a The News report, the Islamabad-based NIH has contacted various institutions performing genome sequencing of coronavirus throughout the country to become part of a national consortium.

“We have approached around eight to 10 institutions, conducting partial or whole genome sequencing of SARS-COV-2 or Coronavirus and offered them to join research and share data with each other,” an official of the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, told the publication.

The official said, in addition to the NIH, Islamabad, there were some institutions that have the capacity to perform partial or complete genome sequencing of the SARS-COV-2, but added that they were not sharing their research and data with each other.

“The objective of the consortium is to enhance their capacity to conduct more focused research and avoid its duplication. In this way, we would be helping each other in monitoring the disease spread and evolution of the virus,” the official said, adding that most of the institutions had expressed willingness to become part of the consortium.

At the moment, only the NIH Islamabad and Aga Khan University (AKU) are sharing data of their genomic sequencing and research with each other.

Other institutions, including the National Institute of Blood Diseases (NIBD), Karachi, National Institute of Virology (NIV) at the Dr. Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine and Drug Research (PCMD), University of Karachi, and Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), with the capacity to perform genome sequencing are neither sharing their data at the national level nor the local level.

The report stated that the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) Karachi is also conducting research on genomics of SARS-COV-2 and they will get their gene sequencing very soon while Ziauddin University has also acquired the capacity to do so.

In addition to Karachi’s institutions, several other educational and health facilities, including Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBJE), Islamabad, are also conducting genome sequencing and research in molecular genetics, who can be asked to become part of the national consortium, the official added.

‘Costly affair’

KU ICCBS Director Dr Iqbal Chaudhry expressed readiness to become part of the national consortium, but added that they require material and financial resources to conduct the expensive research and studies.

“Research in molecular genetics and genomic studies is a costly affair. At the moment, most of our funding is coming from the Sindh government which is very proactive and taking decisions based on scientific data generated by us and other institutions,” he said.

The MD of NIBD Karachi and prominent hematologist, Dr Tahir Shamsi, also confirmed being approached by the NIH, Islamabad, and added that they have expressed their willingness to become part of the initiative.

“We have no objection but we need resources as performing whole genome sequencing of a sample required Rs50,000 to Rs100,000. Consumables and other expenses are a major hurdle in conducting research in genomics," he added.