UIC researchers offer free rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19 in vulnerable Chicago communities
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are offering free rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19 in vulnerable Chicago communities and are performing genomic sequencing on samples to identify variants. The research is part of an initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health called Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations, or RADx-UP.
UIC researchers are working to engage 7,000 Chicagoans in self-collected nasal swab testing, which can be done at home or in person at UI Health Mile Square Health Center and can be sent mailed to UIC or dropped off in person at Mile Square. Participants are informed of positive or negative results from COVID-19 and a contact tracing team provides advice, education and resources.
But we don’t stop there. We are also using genomic sequencing to further analyze all COVID-19 positive samples, which helps us gather the necessary information on the circulating variants and strains of COVID-19 impacting communities in Chicago. “
Dr Nahed Ismail, UIC Professor of Pathology at the College of Medicine and Principal Investigator
Samples are anonymized before sequencing and the results of the analysis are used only for surveillance and public health research. The UIC team hopes the research will help scientists, doctors and public health officials better understand how the human immune system responds to COVID-19 and its various strains, which develop from mutations genetics that make the virus better able to survive.
In addition to its goals to increase test uptake and overcome testing barriers, the study will leverage community-based research to understand viral dynamics, transmission, and virus evolution in black communities and Chicago-area Latinos, âsaid Ismail, also medical director of clinical microbiology and laboratory medicine at UIC College of Medicine.
Variants are identified by next-generation sequencing, or NGS, a technology by which millions and billions of strands of DNA containing genetic information can be read and understood. With NGS, UIC researchers are sequencing the entire genome of the viral mRNA of SARS-COV-2. In this process, virus RNA molecules in positive nasal swab samples are turned into DNA and sequencing is used to follow the evolution of the virus and detect new variant strains.
“This will tell us if the known circulating variant strains – strain B1.1.7 first identified in the UK or strain B.1.351 first identified in South Africa, for example – start to spread in our countries. communities, âIsmail said. âUnderstanding how the virus has evolved over time can help us develop new vaccines or therapies for COVID-19 as well as prevent the virus from spreading around the world.
âThe combination of early intervention through rapid diagnosis of COVID-19 and contact tracing with genome surveillance efforts to detect variant strains will significantly reduce the transmission, morbidity and mortality of COVID-19,â said declared Ismail. “SARS-CoV-2 is not the first virulent pathogen to leave its mark in human history and it certainly won’t be the last. The infrastructure we are building today is not only helping us. preparing us to mitigate the vaccine breakthrough and emerging variants of COVID-19 by tracking transmission, genetic signatures and short-term immune responses, it also helps us prepare for anything that may come after COVID- 19, whether it’s a new coronavirus, a new flu, or something entirely different. A new epidemic is inevitable, but hopefully another year like 2020 can be avoided. “
The RADx-UP team also includes co-principal investigator Renee Taylor and UIC co-researchers Karriem Watson, Ian Jasenof and Sanjib Basu. Dr. Ayman Al Hendy of the University of Chicago is also a Co-Principal Investigator. The research is supported by a $ 2 million grant (3R01ES02861506S1) from the National Institutes of Health.
University of Illinois at Chicago