FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Kean University Researchers Track COVID-19 Strains
UNION, N.J. — Kean University’s COVID-19 diagnostic lab is searching for new strains of the coronavirus in Union County as part of a pilot project that uses genomic sequencing to detect virus mutations.
“From a medical viewpoint, we look to see if new strains of a virus are becoming more common in a population or geographic area, and then we study those strains,” said Robert Pyatt, Ph.D., director of the COVID-19 lab at Kean and an assistant professor of molecular genetics at the New Jersey Center for Science, Technology and Mathematics (NJCSTM).
Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D., said this type of research is taking place in a limited number of research facilities across this country and is vital to ending the pandemic.
“This work is a testament to the high quality of research being done at Kean, and we applaud all of those involved,” he said. “Kean has been at the forefront in addressing the public health crisis posed by COVID-19, and this project provides another way for the University to contribute to pandemic science and support our community.”
Kean researchers are studying samples from the Union County COVID-19 testing site on Kean’s campus. The goal is to identify the DNA sequence of genomes and compare the results to strains already circulating around the world.
“The goal is to better understand what variants are affecting people in the community, to better determine how many people may be infected, how severe the disease may be if they get infected, and to help vaccine makers learn how they can better protect against it,” Pyatt said. “This will give us a snapshot as to what viral strains have been circulating in the Union County area.”
A virus variant is a new version or strain of a virus. Variants occur naturally, but they can make the virus more contagious as well as alter the severity of symptoms and the efficacy of vaccines.
Pyatt said the United States is lagging behind the rest of the world in doing genomic sequencing research, despite recent federal funding to support efforts to detect virus variants. Most of the work is being done at large universities with medical schools, biomedical research institutes and large genomic sequencing centers.
After the pilot program, Pyatt said plans are to gather more samples for genomic sequencing so researchers, including Kean student researchers, can analyze the sequencing data. The entire process is expected to take several months.
The genomic sequencing is currently done off campus, but the university is working on doing the scientific study on site, according to Kean Bostian, dean of NJCSTM.
“What I want to do is to build full capability to do significant COVID-19 genomic sequencing for the whole region right at Kean,” Bostian said.
The project is one of a number of research projects tied to Kean’s federally certified COVID-19 laboratory in the STEM Building.
Pyatt said the research helps fulfill the University’s goal of contributing to the community.
“This is our neighborhood. This is our community,” he said. “We are here as a service to our community, and as a scientist I want to know what’s going on in our community, what we can do to plan for the future and help people today.”
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In a pilot project at Kean University, researchers are looking for new strains of the coronavirus in Union County using genomic sequencing to detect virus mutations. Photo Credit: Kean University
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Founded in 1855, Kean University is one of the largest metropolitan institutions of higher education in the region, with a richly diverse student, faculty and staff population. Kean continues to play a key role in the training of teachers and is a hub of educational, technological and cultural enrichment serving more than 16,000 students. The University’s six undergraduate colleges offer more than 50 undergraduate degrees over a full range of academic subjects. The Nathan Weiss Graduate College offers seven doctoral degree programs and more than 70 options for graduate study leading to master’s degrees, professional diplomas or certifications. With campuses in Union, Toms River, Jefferson and Manahawkin, New Jersey, and Wenzhou, China, Kean University furthers its mission by providing an affordable and accessible world-class education. Visit www.kean.edu.