AsianScientist (Jan. 12, 2023) – The world stood still in March 2020 when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Attributed to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the COVID-19 outbreak had forced countries into lockdowns, disrupted livelihoods and overloaded healthcare systems worldwide. Three years on and the effects of the pandemic still linger.
Yet, COVID-19 is not the world’s first infectious disease outbreak—and neither will it be the last. A 2021 study expects the annual likelihood of an epidemic to increase threefold in the decades to come, and that it would take less than 60 years for another pandemic to strike. With outbreaks periodically occurring, like the Ebola epidemic in Africa, viral research and surveillance have become imperative.
“Many regions are hotbeds for novel and existing viruses, which can emerge anytime. We need to be more proactive in monitoring and managing them as well as cutting them off before they spread like wildfire,” said Dr Emily Leproust, Chief Executive Officer of Twist Bioscience.
Twist Bioscience is a global biotechnology company with an expansive solutions portfolio catering to various fields, including diagnostics and therapeutics. From next-generation sequencing (NGS) to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) synthesis, it offers innovative tools for cancer research, drug discovery and infectious disease surveillance. Its solutions center on target enrichment, a scalable and cost-effective approach that the company has perfected to enable regions of a genome to be isolated for more precise and in-depth sequencing.
“Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a traditional technique to detect viruses in a sample. However, it is prone to false negatives as it is unable to determine the nature of the virus or whether the virus has evolved over time,” explained Dr Leproust. “Target enrichment overcomes these shortcomings and is unbiased and agnostic enough to either pull down specific regions for sequencing or be used for broader assays.”
One of Twist Bioscience’s target enrichment solutions is the Comprehensive Viral Research Panel for NGS to detect viruses—both known and novel—and to track their mutation and transmission. The highly robust panel can sequence and identify more than 3,000 human and non-human viruses and over 15,000 viral strains in a single sample. The panel can also identify individual viral genomes, from coronaviruses to papillomaviruses to influenza A and B, in various complex mixtures like wastewater and food.
According to Dr Leproust, the Comprehensive Viral Research Panel is ideal for viral surveillance in communities because of the breadth and diversity of its coverage and its capability of detecting novel viruses and variants. It can help government bodies and researchers to periodically collect and test wastewater samples for the presence of pathogens to monitor viruses, understand complex diseases and prevent potential outbreaks.
In fact, an earlier iteration of the Comprehensive Viral Research Panel was used to determine the origin of the monkeypox virus during the 2017–2018 outbreak in Nigeria. “This panel is actually the second iteration of our Pan Viral Panel. With the help of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and Illumina, we designed this initial panel and probes in 2017, which were instrumental to finding the first monkeypox virus responsible for the outbreak,” added Dr Leproust.
For a more focused panel, Twist Bioscience offers the Respiratory Virus Research Panel, which detects common respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, human rhinovirus and adenovirus. The panel is also capable of detecting low viral loads and distinguishing between symptoms to pinpoint the exact viral cause and identify co-infections.
“We developed the Respiratory Virus Research Panel following the success of our SARS-CoV-2 panel. There were many clinicians who wanted a tool that can determine the presence of respiratory co-infections along with SARS in their patients. So, we expanded the panel’s scope and sensitivity to improve our understanding of the etiology of respiratory diseases,” shared Dr Leproust.
Both the Comprehensive Viral Research Panel and Respiratory Virus Research Panel follow a simple sequencing workflow, making them easy to adopt in any molecular biology or diagnostics laboratory. The panels also come with access to One Codex, a cloud-based platform that analyzes the sample and enables easy interpretation of the results through reports and visual data.
At its core, Twist Bioscience is a leading innovator of DNA synthesis. Apart from its panels, it is well known for synthetic controls that help ensure the quality, accuracy and sensitivity of NGS and reverse transcription PCR assays. These synthetic controls are safer and more accessible alternatives to live viruses, and can support viral surveillance and disease detection. Twist Bioscience offers synthetic controls for respiratory, SARS-Cov-2 (including variants of interest and of concern) and monkeypox viruses.
“We have leveraged our strength in making accurate synthetic fragments at a scale that can be catered to any research assays, whether they are based on DNA or nucleic acid. Our fully synthetic controls have been split into five or six individual fragments but they represent the whole viral genome,” said Dr Leproust.
Real-world applicability is the objective of any solution, and Twist Bioscience’s solutions have been validated by multiple clinicians and researchers who also provide feedback that the company uses to refine its products. But what sets Twist Bioscience apart in the market is how easily scalable its solutions are.
“One of our unique advantages is that we can scale our target enrichment solutions according to a customer’s research needs anytime, such as adding more virus species and strains to our panels. Our design and probe-making processes are so fine-tuned that we can accommodate a client’s request within four weeks,” emphasized Dr Leproust.
As the world prepares itself for future viral outbreaks while still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Leproust envisions robust and scalable solutions for viral surveillance as the way forward: “More than 50 percent of the world’s population is in Asia, and any outbreak here can cause havoc. With solutions like the Comprehensive Viral Research Panel, we can monitor hotspots to detect new viruses early and keep our communities safe.”
Reach out to Twist Bioscience and learn more about its target enrichment solutions here.
Source: Twist Bioscience
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