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RELEASE DATE: June 23, 2021

Amy Feehan, PhD, Research Scientist at Ochsner

Ochsner and LSUHSC-New Orleans have received a $1.5 million contract from the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) to sequence up to 300 positive COVID-19 samples a month for the next 2 years. Amy Feehan, PhD, Research Scientist at Ochsner is the lead Scientist with Lucio Miele, MD, PhD and Judy Crabtree, PhD at LSUHSC-NO serving as sequencing partner.

“This funding is an excellent example of Ochsner and LSU working together to solve public health problems for the state,” said Leo Seoane, MD, Chief Academic Officer at Ochsner Health.

The project will help us understand which SARS CoV-2 variants are circulating in Louisiana and provide insight into any breakthrough variants to immunization. Globally, there are three strains of coronavirus that appear to be about 50 percent more infectious than COVID-19. These have become known as the B.1.1.7 or Alpha variant, the B.1.351 or Beta variant, and the P.1 or Gamma variant. Sequencing information will be given to LDH epidemiology teams to monitor mutations in the virus.

“Because Ochsner is already doing approximately 60% of the SARS-CoV-2 testing in Louisiana, we are uniquely positioned to collect samples for variant testing through the Ochsner Biorepository,” said Amy Feehan. “Our goal is to consistently sequence 75 samples each week,” she added.

Sequencing will help inform knowledge of which variants are circulating, where those variants are geographically, and whether post-vaccine infections are from variants of concern or related to host factors. The sequencing effort will include samples from people who have reinfections, are immunocompromised, and had long hospital stays. Sequencing surveillance is critically important for state and local leadership to understand the emergence of new variants of interest as travel increases and restrictions are eased.