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Science and computing companies support study on COVID-19 disease susceptibility

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Bionano Genomics, Rescale, Amazon Web Services, and Genoox have announced that they are donating consumables and computing resources to help combat the SARS-CoV2 virus. The aim of the study is to identify genomic variants and novel active substances that influence resistance or sensitivity to the SARS-CoV2 virus, or COVID-19, disease progression and drug response. 

A variety of genomic and other biological variables will be compared between those patients who show no or mild symptoms and those who show severe illness. The study will control for viral strain differences, and for the known risk factors of age and chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes, or other immune-compromising diseases.

Shawn Hansen, COO of Rescale commented: ‘The unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 requires the world’s top technology leaders to team up to fight for a vaccine. Now that cloud supercomputing resources have become available at no cost, leaders like Bionano are proving they can accomplish in hours what would have previously required days. We hope other market leaders will join the Tech Against Covid initiative to learn more about how they can accelerate research using cloud computing.’

The first study of this kind is underway in Wuhan, China, and is being performed at the site of Wuhan-based GrandOmics, a service provider using Bionano technology. Now, the Hannover Medical School is launching a study involving 1,000 patients and controls, consisting of COVID-19 patients and their partners and first-degree relatives as controls. Partners have typically been intensely exposed to the same strain of the virus as the patients, and differences in disease severity can be caused by genetic variation.

The participants will have their genomes analysed using next-generation sequencing (NGS), and Bionano Genome Imaging. Additionally, the study participants will undergo analysis of their transcriptome to look at gene expression, their metabolome, and a variety of immune markers such as cytokines and T-cell response.

The study involves the teams of Dr Doris Steinemann and Dr Thomas Illig, who are part of the Resolving Infection Susceptibility (RESIST) Cluster which specifically focuses on the study of genomic variants that protect or predispose to infectious disease. They recently purchased Bionano’s Saphyr instrument and will be analyzing the study participant samples using the Saphyr System.

A number of companies have committed to supporting this study as part of a global Tech Against Covid initiative. Bionano is donating the consumables needed to analyze the structural variants in the samples. Rescale, the High-Performance Computing cloud platform fully integrated with Saphyr, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), a leading provider of on-demand cloud computing, are donating compute time for the Bionano data analysis. Genoox, the platform for annotation and classification of genomic variants, will donate their compute resources to analyze the NGS data combined with Bionano’s structural variation calls for an integrated analysis of small and large genomic variants. 

‘As we face the threat of COVID-19, we understand the significance of accelerating how fast researchers and scientists can drive time-to-insight,’ said Barry Bolding, Director, High Performance Computing, Amazon Web Services. ‘AWS is proud to be working with Bionano Genomics and Rescale to offer complimentary fully managed HPC capability that ramps up scientific data analysis quickly.’

Dr Thomas Illig, head of the Hannover Biobank commented: ‘In the past 18 years, novel coronaviruses have triggered two epidemics and the current COVID-19 pandemic, of which the full extent still can’t be predicted. Rapid measures are required to stop the current pandemic and to better prepare ourselves for new coronaviruses in the long term. We are thankful for the support of the Hannover Medical School, Bionano Genomics, Rescale, AWS, and Genoox, who allow us to scale to the needed study size. The Hannover Medical School and our teams at the RESIST cluster are ready to rapidly deploy this large, most powerful study on the human body’s fight against COVID-19.’

Erik Holmlin, PhD, CEO of Bionano Genomics commented: ‘This study to identify genomic variants that influence the COVID-19 disease progression and intensity is an important step in the development of novel, targeted, antiviral therapies or vaccines. We believe that Bionano’s genome imaging technology is the only technology capable of detecting the structural variants that could protect against or predispose patients to the viral infection. After the first study started in the initial epicenter of the epidemic in Wuhan, we are now expanding the scope to other geographical areas including Europe. The research team will make the results from these studies available to the medical and research community, with the hope to help bring this global pandemic to a halt.’