Washington: Researchers have established the first genomic surveillance capability in Liberia, enabling them to monitor genetic changes in the Ebola virus within one week of sample collection.

Until now, efforts to sequence the genome of Ebola virus, Makona, have been hampered by the time it took to send samples back to the United States for analysis, according to Jeffrey Kugelman, US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).

New Liberia lab monitors genetic changes in Ebola virus
Representational picture

The Makona strain was responsible for the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

"It just was not happening fast enough," Kugelman said.

"We need answers in days, rather than in weeks or months," Kugelman added.

Kugelman recently returned from Liberia, where he spent four months setting up the genomics laboratory at the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research (LIBR).

The laboratory, a collaborative effort between LIBR and USAMRIID, was established to characterise Ebola viral genomes to assess the erosion of diagnostic and therapeutic targets, as well as to provide the scientific and public health communities working in Liberia with viral genomic information.

According to the authors, evaluating changes in the virus in real time was essential to determine whether those changes could have an impact on diagnostics and therapeutics.

"It is a fully functional genomics lab--and the fact that we have been able to put next-generation sequencing into the outbreak area has made quite an impact," Kugelman said.

The details were published online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.