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MI Universities Get Funding to Sequence COVID, Other Infectious Diseases

Bar codes scanner, blood sample tubes and laptop with lab technician hands on background. Coronavirus COVID-19 laboratory analysis workplace.
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Michigan's COVID-19 mortality rate for Black residents is fourth-highest in the nation. Researchers are seeking to improve public-health infrastructure and reduce disparities.

A new grant will increase the capacity for infectious-disease sequencing and research in Michigan, to improve the state's ability to respond to health crises.

Four universities are receiving a total of $18.5 million for the work.

Dr. Teena Chopra, co-director of Wayne State University's Detroit-based Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases, said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of upping the ante on researching and preparing for this and future pandemics.

"The work under the grant involves looking at emerging infections, not only SARS-CoV 2 which causes COVID, but also other multi-drug-resistant organisms that have plagued the city of Detroit for years and now are even worse after the pandemic," Chopra explained.

She noted genomic sequencing can help with faster tracking of the transmission of COVID, controlling outbreaks in communities, detecting new variants and developing vaccines.

Dr. Marcus Zervos, who also co-directs WSU's Center, said the collaboration between universities is important. He emphasized efforts to understand the spread and reach of viruses such as COVID require national and international cooperation.

"We weren't able to rapidly respond to a pandemic because we didn't have mechanisms for testing and contact tracing and outbreak investigation and control," Zervos contended. "If it's COVID, or if it's a new strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it's critical to have the public health infrastructure in place."

Data showed in Detroit and other cities, the Black and Latino communities have been hit harder by COVID than white communities. The Center also is aiming to reduce disparities, by collaborating with the state, Detroit Health Department and community groups to find ways to benefit community health.

Michigan Tech University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are the other three universities to get the funding.

Originally from just outside Boston, Lily Bohlke is formerly from 2020Talks, a show tracking politics and elections, that started prior to the 2020 Iowa caucuses at KHOI in Ames. She's also a past intern for the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.
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