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Argentina Researchers Team with Columbia Univ., Roche on H1N1 Sequencing

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Columbia University and Argentina will collaborate with Roche 454 Life Sciences to sequence and compare genomic information from H1N1 viruses from the Argentina outbreak with those from other regions, according to Columbia.

The goal of the research is to use genomic analysis of the different viral strains to learn about the organism's evolution in order to inform public health response plans. The researchers hope to characterize differences between severe versus mild infection cases, and to determine how the virus evolved at different points in time.

With around 165 fatalities, Argentina has suffered the highest number of deaths from the H1N1 2009 virus after the United States, according to Columbia.

The collaborators will include the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Argentina's National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the National Administration of Laboratories and Health Institutes.

The research plan is to completely sequence up to 150 virus specimens from nose and throat swabs and cultures over a 10-day period. The teams will share their findings with the scientific community.

"No one knows how this pandemic will evolve. Continuous surveillance will be essential to focusing both research and public health response. We are analyzing these isolates in New York and Argentina; nonetheless, we expect that members of the broader scientific community will bring new insights," said Columbia's CII Director, Ian Lipkin, in a statement.

Lipkin, who also is director of the Northeast Biodefense Center, said the collaborators will release the genomic sequences "in draft form so that the vetting process can begin as soon as possible."

"While there is no evidence so far to indicate the emergence of resistance to the oseltamivir vaccine, the antiviral drug that blocks the influenza virus from spreading between cells in the body, we are cautious about the findings until we have more sequences," said Mailman School of Public Health Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Gustavio Palacios. "The changes already noted in comparing the outbreak in Argentina to the US haven't previously been associated with greater virulence," he said.

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