2 lab personnel return with skills to detect variants

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 29, 2021– Two Belizean healthcare professionals have returned to the country after undergoing a two-week training session in Texas that has equipped them with the skills needed to carry out specialized gene sequencing in Belize, which is required to detect Covid-19 variants locally. The two-week training was made possible through a partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in the United States. It is expected that, with the skills acquired through this training, the two Belizeans who received the training — Robert Melendez and Kaylyn Habet— will be able to carry out this testing method, which will bolster our COVID-19 surveillance capacity in the country.

Gene sequencing is a procedure used to determine the order of nucleotides in DNA, and it is deployed by trained professionals seeking to determine if any virus variant is present in test samples after they have made a comparison with the international database, which is updated regularly.

The sequencing approach to be utilized in Belize is known as Nanopore sequencing. This is a third-generation method that involves the use of a specialized piece of equipment with various kits. The kits being used in Belize have a lifespan of four months, and five are available in the country.

One of the trainees, Roberto Melendez, mentioned when he spoke to local reporters that the the gene sequencing which results in the identification of variants occurs over a three-day period and involves various processes. He also said that at this time the Central Medical Lab is working on an algorithm that will enable them to use genetic sequencing to analyze the results of tests on a representative sample of the population, which is expected to generate relevant data that can aid in the surveillance efforts.

The Central Medical Lab will compare the data with the international variant list and hopefully determine the reach of variants in Belize amidst this third wave of the pandemic.
Melendez indicated that, while so far only two Belizeans have received training in gene sequencing, other laboratory personnel will be receiving training in the specialized method after the necessary systems are in place.

As a result of this advancement, the country will be able to more quickly determine the presence of variants in samples and the extent of the spread of such variants in Belize without having to wait for an extended period of time before receiving results from overseas.

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