Alessandro Marcello, Group Leader, Molecular Virology laboratory, ICGEB Trieste,Italy, reached a major goal in the battle against coronavirus, isolating and sequencing the full genome of SARS-Cov-2 on 20 March 2020. In the Friuli Venezia Giulia Regionin North-Eastern Italy, the first cases of COVID-19 were identified on 1 March 2020. A task-force to isolate and sequence the SARS-CoV-2 virus circulating in the Region was swiftly formed in Trieste, to include Alessandro Marcello, Pierlanfranco D’Agaro, head of the diagnostic reference centre, “Azienda Sanitaria Universitaria Giuliano Isontina” and Danilo Licastro, responsible for the Genome sequencing platform, AREA Science Park.The full-genome sequencing ofviral isolates is required to understand the genetic evolution of the virus during the pandemic and to track the origin of the viruses that reached the Region. The availability of viral isolates allows for research on diagnostics, antivirals and vaccines to take place effectively.
At the ICGEB, a biosafety level 3 laboratoryfor pathogenic virus manipulation has special engineering and containment features that allow investigators to work safely with known or possible human pathogens, including coronavirus. Initial work is focusing on the setup of molecular and serological assays for COVID-19. This is essential to identify infected individuals and those who havealready experienced the infection. Candidate antiviral drugs can now be tested on the virus, which is the first step towards a cure, and the immunological response capable of neutralising the virus can be fully studied. Studies are also underway at ICGEB New Delhi, Indiafor repurposing a botanical drug andthe development ofmonoclonal antibodies for treating SARS-CoV-2 infections.
The ICGEB platform, which has beenfullyintegrated into the state-of-the-art Web site at ICGEB, offers Toolswith links to Resourcesand Procedures,including Protocolsfor Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in the preparation, isolation and detection of Sars-CoV-2 RNA by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR),Reagentsfor positive control (according to diagnostic procedures recommended by the World Health Organisation(WHO), and a Sequencing Servicefor local isolates of thevirus, through our partner lab in the AREA Science Park. The ICGEB is offering Technical Assistancein the form of on-line Video Tutorialsin the preparation, isolation and detection of Sars-CoV-2RNA, as well as Remote, Technical Assistanceduring the reproduction of SOPs.In addition, following recent reports about the possible beneficial effect of interferon alpha in COVID-19 infections(links to further documentation are available on the Web Resource page), ICGEB is offering itsInterferon IFN protocolfor the production of interferon alpha,developed in the Biotechnology Development Unit in Trieste,to Member States,upon request, free of charge.
Lawrence Banks, ICGEB Director-Generalstates:
Even in this time of unprecedented disruption the ICGEB is actively working to fulfil its mandate to assist itsMember States, by providing invaluable toolsand expertiseto the front lines of research in thefield,fundamental, particularly, in many low resource settings. We are witnessing a wonderful dedicated effort by ICGEB researchers and staff who together areworkingcloselywith the Italian Regional and National Authorities for the greater global benefit.
The Web page at: https://www.icgeb.org/covid19-resources/provides direct links to Further Training Opportunities, the opportunity for direct interaction with our Research Expertsand PIs,who are focusing efforts on the current global health emergency.