March 31, 2022

Genomic surveillance in Peru: research and technological development in public health

The pandemic accelerated the search for new strategies to solve health issues in our society, both from the public and private sectors. At PUCP, the Genomics Laboratory promotes several research and technological development projects, and receives a visit from Dr. Lawrence Banks, ICGEB Director-General.

The Genomics Laboratory of PUCP has been in operation since 2018 addressing the study of infectious diseases caused by pathogens of public health significance, through a genomic approach that uses cutting-edge technological tools.

In the context of COVID-19, we pursue to understand the factors that contribute to the pandemics outbreak such as the one currently underway caused by SARS-CoV-2 and, therefore, different viruses with pandemic potential are globally studied.

This research is conducted in the context of the EpiCenter for Emerging Infectious Disease Intelligence (EEIDI) project, which brings together renowned scientists from the US, Uganda and Peru to monitor viruses circulating in Latin America and Africa, two hotspots places or high-risk points to present epidemiological outbreaks with pandemic potential.

Dr. Mariana Leguía, director and researcher of the Genomics Laboratory of PUCP, comments on the relevance of her work in the context of "One Health", a concept that was introduced at the beginning of the year 2000 to name a notion known for more than a century: that human health, animal health and ecosystems health where they coexist are interdependent and, therefore, to take care of one, it is necessary to take care of the three.

How to deal with a pandemic worldwide from viral research? “Most viruses that cause infectious diseases are zoonotic. That is, viruses can spread between people and animals. Primates, bats, and rodents serve as natural hosts of many viruses with pandemic potential. Therefore, we are dedicated to doing genomic surveillance for different pathogens of interest," Leguía says.

"The EEIDI project is based in the jungle of Peru and the impenetrable forests of Uganda, where our work focuses on studying three different viral families: coronaviruses (e.g. SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the current pandemic), arboviruses (e.g. dengue, which affects the jungle and the northern coast of our country every year) and filoviruses (e.g. Ebola, which, although it does not circulate in Latin America, does circulate in Africa)," the specialist says.

Interdisciplinary articulation networks are vital for the development of new knowledge. "These large-scale projects require multidisciplinary human groups that include researchers, doctors, veterinarians, entomologists, epidemiologists, lab technicians, bioinformaticians, modelers and so on. From PUCP, we try to model what can be done in Peru and we are leading the way to develop necessary capacities at the local level as much as possible. The idea is to develop critical mass and cutting-edge technology so that the work can be executed closer to the sample collection points, which often occurs in places far from the jungle where there is no further technological development. At the Genomics Laboratory, we are developing enhanced diagnostics and genomic surveillance protocols tailored to suit the country's needs, among others,” she says.

In recognition of the cutting-edge research conducted in the Genomics Laboratory of PUCP, Dr. Lawrence Banks, Director-General of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) visited it.

“At the GenomicsLaboratory, we are developing enhanced diagnostics and genomic surveillanceprotocols tailored to suit the country's needs".
Mariana Leguía, Ph.D. | Director of theGenomics Laboratory of PUCP

“Peru is a member country of ICGEB, an autonomous intergovernmental organization that operates as a center of excellence for research, training and technology transfer. This is why, as part of this community, Peruvian scientists can access research funds, training, internships and other resources”, says the director of the Laboratory.

On the other hand, the link with PUCP students is also very important. “We try to involve students in current research projects. This allows us to train them in practice so that they learn to do science, while they contribute to generating useful results for the projects," Dr. Leguía states.

Thus, since 2021, we have three undergraduate PUCP students who, with a fund from the BBVA Foundation, are working on genomic surveillance. They are specifically learning to use bioinformatics tools for SARS-CoV-2 genome assembly from genomic data generated in the laboratory.

In conclusion, multidisciplinary projects such as the EpiCenter for Emerging Infectious Disease Intelligence, currently developed in the Genomics Laboratory of PUCP, generate unique opportunities for research, technological development and human capital training which significantly enhance the science done in our country. The idea is that by leading these ways, more and more research projects can be conducted locally to benefit the national population but also have a global impact.


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