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United States setting up $1.7B national network to track COVID variants

The effort is to further research into coronavirus variants with the use of bioinformatics, which is a major program at the University at Buffalo.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As the fight against COVID continues, the White House has announced $1.7 billion in funding for a focused effort on further research into the virus variants with the use of bioinformatics, which is a major program at the University at Buffalo.

It is not yet clear if any such funding could go to UB, but the state is getting millions.

This involves the analysis of genetic sequencing using very powerful computers at UB's Center of Excellence for Bioinformatics and Life Science on Buffalo's downtown medical campus. 

"To bolster the ability of the CDC, and state and local public health departments to monitor, track, and defeat emerging threats," according to Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor who's on the COVID response team.

"Whether it's COVID-19 variants today, or other viruses in the future through a process known as genomic sequencing."

Added Dr. Jennifer Surtees of UB Bioinformatics: "I think having additional staff to help process the data. I think having training opportunities whether it's an internships or fellowships to train people, so there is in fact a shortage of people who know how to do this kind of data analysis."

Dr. Surtees is also assisting the Erie County Department of Health with their own local analysis of COVID variants.

White House officials on Friday unveiled a strategy featuring three components:

  • a major funding boost for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments to ramp up gene-mapping of coronavirus samples;
  • the creation of six “centers of excellence” partnerships with universities to conduct research and develop technologies for gene-based surveillance of pathogens;
  • and building a data system to better share and analyze information on emerging disease threats.

The effort relies on money approved by Congress as part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief package.