A more virulent variant of the coronavirus disease, first identified in the UK last year, has now become the dominant strain in Lahore, a study conducted at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) revealed on Monday.
"The prevalence of variants is increasing and it is now clear that the UK variant, known as B117, has taken hold across the provincial metropolis," said UHS Immunology Department's Associate Professor Dr Shah Jehan, who is the principal investigator of the research.
"Based on our most recent study, the B117 variant is now the most common lineage circulating in Lahore," Dr Jehan added. “Out of the total 100 samples, 89 had UK variant while only two had B1351, that is the South Africa strain of Covid-19.
The researcher further said that the study was conducted in collaboration with the British Quadram Institute of Bioscience. He said that the samples were collected from hospitals in Lahore and surrounding areas.
The next-generation sequencing technique was then used to identify the types of coronavirus, he stated. He added that he was working with his fellow researcher and Department of Immunology Professor Nadeem Afzal on whole-genome sequencing of 1,000 samples, after which they would be able to provide a true picture of the types of the virus across the country.
He claimed the research would play an important role in preventing the spread of the disease and developing effective vaccines.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) had last year approved a grant of Rs13 million for the research project. The project aims to explore the immunological, viral, and genetic basis of Covid-19 in local patients. The duration of the research project is one year. Dr Jehan had previously won grants for five research projects. He has also received the research productivity award and the HEC award for ‘Outstanding University Teacher’.
UHS Vice Chancellor Javed Akram said Dr Jehan and his team were working on their important research. In his statement, the UHS VC said that research on coronavirus was very timely and important.
"The B117 variant is between 32% and 104% deadlier. However, it’s important to understand that the data was only collected from one group of people so more research is needed in the local context to see if these numbers hold true in other groups of patients", he maintained.
He further said the research would show how the virus was changing its shape. "Only by knowing as much as we can about the virus can we fight it," he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2021.