Spectrum Health to Collaborate with MSU on Research Project to Sequence COVID-19

Spectrum Health announced Friday that they are collaborating with Michigan State University researchers on their portion of an $18.5 million grant to collect and analyze genomic data to address emerging infectious disease threats and enhance Michigan’s ability to respond to them.

In Jan., the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced that $18.5 million in federal funds had been awarded over the next two years to Michigan Tech University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University to increase sequencing capacity in Michigan starting with COVID-19, and then other infectious disease threats with the potential for broad community spread.

Funding for the Michigan Sequencing Academic Partnership for Public Health Innovation and Response (MI-SAPPHIRE) is through a CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant that the MDHHS received.

“Spectrum Health is proud to partner with Michigan State University in this statewide initiative to address not only the current challenge of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but other emerging public health threats as well,” said Adam J. Caulfield, Ph.D., director of microbiology, Spectrum Health Regional Laboratory. “Participating in the MI-SAPPHIRE program to further characterize future variants of the virus and map its transmission is an important contribution to further protect the health of the communities we serve across the state.”

Officials say MI-SAPPHIRE activities will include sequence generation and analysis, including sample collection and sequencing, data processing, storage and sharing, and data interpretation and analytics.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spectrum Health laboratories have performed more than 1.2 million COVID tests.

The testing represents patients from 82 of the 83 counties and 859 of the 979 zip codes in the state. Furthermore, access to COVID-19 testing through Spectrum Health’s urgent care centers extends impact to 1461 zip codes outside of the state and 39 outside of the United States.

Moreover, officials say bioinformatics are a core component of the grant, which has Spectrum Health working with Michigan State University. Part of the investment, according to Spectrum Health, will bring Spectrum Health West Michigan’s array of sequencing tools to bear in the fight against the coronavirus.

“This project is essential as we focus on developing new computational tools for this pandemic and future viruses,” said Jeremy Prokop, PhD, assistant professor in the MSU College of Human Medicine, who is leading the bioinformatics initiative. “Through this collaboration with Spectrum Health, we will launch new tools that could one day be used by others to quickly take the sequence of a viral genome and not only correlate it to known strains of the virus, like omicron but also detect new variants that could have major public health impact.”