News Releases

UWI scientistsí genomic surveillance research featured in PLOS Global Public Health Journal

For Release Upon Receipt - March 24, 2023

UWI


The UWI Regional Headquarters, Jamaica W.I. Tuesday, March 24, 2023—  Professor Christine Carrington and Dr. Nikita Sahadeo from the Faculty of Medical Sciences (FMS) at the St. Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies (The UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago, are among a team of scientists from the regional university featured in the PLOS Global Public Health Journal for its work on genomic surveillance research in the Caribbean.

The journal article, published in February 2023, details how the team’s work propelled the Caribbean out of the pathogen genomic surveillance starting blocks and thus facilitated better understanding and control of SARS-CoV-2 in the region. 

Dr. Nikita Sahadeo, a post-doctoral researcher, is the first author on the publication, which describes The UWI’s implementation of rapid whole genome sequencing (WGS) to monitor the rapid evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in the Caribbean and the resulting emergence of new, easily spread variants. The article also presents the successes and challenges encountered by The UWI researchers and their regional and international counterparts, as well as the lessons learned. It also makes recommendations for sustainable genomic surveillance in resource-limited settings.

The project, led by Professor Christine Carrington, FMS Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology, had the initial aim of establishing capacity for rapid SARS-CoV-2 WGS in Trinidad and Tobago in order to generate baseline information on the virus’ diversity in the Caribbean, and so that viral genomics and related molecular epidemiological approaches could be incorporated into the mitigation and control efforts of the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health and member states of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). 

In addition to Professor Carrington, key UWI researchers included Mr. Vernie Ramkissoon, Ms. Anushka Ramjag, Mr. Soren Nichols, Dr. Arianne Brown-Jordan and Mr. Nicholas Mohammed. The collaborating institutions on the initiative were the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health, CARPHA, Chief Medical Officers of CARPHA member states, and collaborators from Imperial College London, the Universities of London, Oxford and Edinburgh.

The initial plan was to analyse 800 samples within a two-year timeframe, but the emergence of the first variant of concern (VOC) in December 2020 and ensuing necessity for routine VOC surveillance, (two weeks after the researchers successfully generated their first complete SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences), forced the team to pivot from their initial research focus to providing essential sequencing capacity for Trinidad and Tobago and the 16 other CARPHA member states.  

This was achieved with support from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), UWI-T&T Research and Development (RDI) Fund, AHF Global Public Health Initiative, Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) that facilitated acquisition of more powerful sequencing devices, other necessary equipment, reagents and expanded human capacity in the lab. 

The PLOS journal article highlights that the “effectiveness of this initiative was demonstrated by the rapid detection and reporting of VOCs in several CMS, which informed public health policy and decision-making for economic reopening, international travel restrictions and work policies.”

CARPHA established its own in-house capacity in December 2021 and, while The UWI laboratory (which now serves as a WHO/PAHO reference sequencing laboratory) continues to carry out WGS for the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health and is available to provide surge capacity, the team has otherwise returned to its research focus, working to expand genomic surveillance to other pathogens and supporting UWI researchers in other areas to incorporate WGS and related bioinformatics techniques into their research.  

As the work continues, Professor Christine Carrington notes, “We really need more space now, our current lab is not really fit for purpose. We need a dedicated, purpose-built or refurbished space for the increased capacity. Visitors to our lab have told us that our output is that of a world class laboratory, but now we need to look like one! COVID-19 is not the first and won’t be the last disease of public health significance to emerge, as an academic institution we need our research and training capacity in this area to be enhanced so we can better support our public health colleagues and our region for when the next health threat comes”.  Professor Carrington serves as a member of The UWI COVID-19 Taskforce, which was established in 2020 to leverage the University's knowledge and experts to assist the Caribbean in its readiness and response to the virus outbreak. The PLOS journal article titled, Implementation of genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in the Caribbean: Lessons learned for sustainability in resource-limited settings can be accessed at https://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pgph.0001455

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 About The University of the West Indies 

The UWI has been and continues to be a pivotal force in every aspect of Caribbean development; residing at the centre of all efforts to improve the well-being of people across the region for the past 75 years. 

From a university college of London in Jamaica with 33 medical students in 1948, The UWI is today an internationally respected, global university with near 50,000 students and five campuses: Mona in Jamaica, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, Cave Hill in Barbados, Five Islands in Antigua and Barbuda and its Open Campus, and global centres in partnership with universities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. 

The UWI offers over 800 certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Culture, Creative and Performing Arts, Food and Agriculture, Engineering, Humanities and Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Science and Technology, Social Sciences, and Sport. As the Caribbean’s leading university, it possesses the largest pool of Caribbean intellect and expertise committed to confronting the critical issues of our region and wider world.

The UWI has been consistently ranked among the top universities globally by the most reputable ranking agency, Times Higher Education (THE). The UWI is the only Caribbean-based university to make the prestigious lists since its debut in the rankings in 2018. In addition to its leading position in the Caribbean in the World University Rankings, it is also in the top 25 for Latin America and the Caribbean and the top 100 global Golden Age universities (between 50 and 80 years old).  The UWI is also featured among the leading universities on THE’s Impact Rankings for its response to the world’s biggest concerns, outlined in the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Good Health and Wellbeing; Gender Equality and Climate Action. 

2023 marks The UWI’s 75th anniversary. The Diamond jubilee milestone themed “UWI at 75. Rooted. Ready. Rising.” features initiatives purposely designed and aligned to reflect on the past, confront the present, and articulate plans for the future of the regional University. 

Learn more at www.uwi.edu   

 

 

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