Tampa General Hospital, the record-breaking transplant center, home of the NASA-style mission command center for care coordination, and Florida’s go-to for groundbreaking innovations, has once again proven itself as the leader in health care across the Sunshine State.
This week, Tampa General revealed its efforts to research and identify variants of COVID-19 in Florida.
“Tampa General’s commitment to science and discovery is crucial as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” said John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital. “This kind of innovative push for answers will be a vital part of helping us learn more about these new variants and how they differ from the original virus.”
Tampa General is home to one of the only esoteric labs in the state performing sequencing tests to identify and learn more about emerging variants of COVID-19.
“Viruses and humans have coexisted for millions of years. It is almost always a struggle for survival. So, in our struggle, the virus tries to come up with different variations so they can camouflage against the human cells. It’s like a war zone,” explained Dr. Seetha Lakshmi, Medical Director of the Global Emerging Diseases Institute on the campus of Tampa General Hospital and Assistant Professor of Infectious Disease at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “The sequencing is a way to detect through that camouflage and be able to find out what’s going on, how they’re hiding from the immune system.”
More than 400 cases of the best-known variant, B.1.1.7, have been confirmed in Florida. Not only will the lab’s findings inform TGH’s response to the virus, but the data collected is shared with a global research network.
“The global network promotes the sharing of the sequences around the world. So, a lot of labs that are doing the same work as TGH are uploading the sequences to the same network,” said Dr. Suzane Silbert, scientific director for TGH’s esoteric testing laboratory. “We can share our results and try to understand the findings around the world.”
TGH is making plans to expand the lab’s capabilities and accelerate the turnaround of results. Thanks to the generosity of the TGH Foundation, Dr. Silbert’s laboratory recently received additional equipment to help boost their sequencing process while performing complex tests. The two new sequencers will have the capacity to process more than 50 samples a week.
TGH is also training more medical technologists on lab procedures to ensure samples are effective and efficiently sequenced to help provide real-time data and results on developing virus mutations. The lab is looking to apply the techniques and knowledge they have gained through sequencing and apply them to areas outside the coronavirus in hopes of applying the science to other infectious diseases and possibly even cancer.