Saturday 31 October 2020

Local start-up sequencing Malta strain of COVID-19

A local start-up, The Bio Arte Limited, based at the Life Sciences Park in San Gwann, is currently working on sequencing the Maltese strain of COVID-19 (SARS CoV-2) with the collaboration of the Medical Laboratory Services at Saint James Hospital and expects to publish its results internationally by the end of the month.

For this particular project, the company is working with Dr Elfath Elnifro, Dr Tessabella Sultana and Mr Paul Sultana CEO of Medical Laboratory Services at Saint James Hospital from which it has obtained RNA samples of the local COVID-19 strain. 

According to Dr Manuele Biazzo, Scientific Director of The BioArte Ltd, the company, which employs a team of medical laboratory scientists and virologists – many with Ph.D.s, is currently sequencing the genome of the coronavirus thanks to hundreds of thousands of euros invested in highly sophisticated equipment, consumables, reagents and IT software.

“Once we have sequenced this genome, we will be able to compare it with international strains of the virus and establish whether it is identical, similar or different. We have certainly seen different reactions locally to the virus in the first wave of the pandemic earlier this year compared to overseas and we would be making recommendations on how the local strain should be tackled,” he said.

The company, which was set up last July, is collaborating with the largest paediatric hospital in Italy to study the microbial composition of the nasal passages of children, which differ from that of adults and the elderly.

“While children may catch COVID-19, they appear to have a shield that protects them from the worst effects of the virus. While they are placed in isolation because they are carriers, they do not appear to suffer from symptoms that require hospitalisation. This is something that we want to understand immediately and share with the entire scientific community,” Dr Biazzo said.

The intention, he explained, is to identify the shield that protects children and see if it could be replicated in the adult and elderly section of the population, expediting the process linked with future therapies based on the correlation analysis between paediatric microbiome profiles and COVID-19.

The Bio Arte is also collaborating with GenomeUp of Rome, a specialist IT and artificial intelligence machine learning supplier, to handle the huge quantities of data that will emerge from its DNA research, and with local pathologists, including Prof. Christian A. Scerri, ensuring it adopts procedures that are of the highest international standards in its research.

Among its services is the research-based clinical examination of persons, who are referred to the company by their doctors, to obtain a comprehensive outline of all the micro-organisms in their body, correlated with the latest data in research literature worldwide and the implication on their health.

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