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The Cutting Edge of COVID

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27th September, 2022

The efforts of our Pathogen Genomics team throughout the COVID-19 pandemic saved thousands of lives and prevented further outbreaks.

As the first cas­es of COVID-19 began to emerge in NSW the NSW Health Pathol­o­gy pathogen genomics ser­vice joined forces with a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary team of epi­demi­ol­o­gists and researchers to help cre­ate a new assay that would illu­mi­nate the spread of the virus.

The team employed an inno­v­a­tive lab­o­ra­to­ry method that was orig­i­nal­ly used to iden­ti­fy the source of food­borne out­breaks in NSW. They were quick­ly able to pro­vide ear­ly pathogen sequences direct­ly from infect­ed patients then grow the virus in order to map the entire genome.

Incred­i­bly, it took only two weeks for the first genomes to be devel­oped which allowed health experts to link peo­ple arriv­ing from over­seas to inter­na­tion­al hotspots. The team used more than 840 sam­ples from COVID pos­i­tive patients that allowed them to uncov­er 49 genom­ic clus­ters respon­si­ble for 91% of ear­ly cases.

“I think, at its core, this project was about col­lab­o­ra­tion. It was about tak­ing a real­ly inno­v­a­tive lab­o­ra­to­ry method and then pulling togeth­er dif­fer­ent pieces of health data to think about new ways that we could con­trol a kind of world-chang­ing event as it hap­pened,” said Dr Rebec­ca Rock­ett, who was part of the award-win­ning team.

The impor­tant work per­formed by the pathogen genomics team was shared across state lines as well as inter­na­tion­al­ly in order to bat­tle the rapid spread of the virus as it ignored all borders.

The unprece­dent­ed work earned the pathogen genomics team and their part­ners the NSW Health Secretary’s Award for Inte­grat­ed Val­ue Based Care ear­li­er this year.


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