University of São Paulo: USP task force performed more than 140,000 covid-19 tests in the Pirassununga region

One of the five centers at USP, created in March 2020 to serve the Covid-19 Diagnostic Network in the State of São Paulo, the Covid-19 Diagnostic Task Force USP Pirassununga has already performed more than 140,000 tests. The balance is partial and, as the coordinator of the work at USP, professor Heidge Fukumasu, recounts, it was obtained in partnership with 17 cities in the region, two Santas Casas and the São Paulo government’s Diagnosis Network.

In addition to the tests, the USP team in Pirassununga started to sequence the virus to detect the new strains in the region, collaborating with the New Variants Alert Network. To meet the demand, right at the beginning of the pandemic, the Laboratory of Comparative and Translational Oncology (LOCT) of the Faculty of Animal Science and Food Engineering (FZEA) at USP, in Pirassununga, reorganized its structure for rapid diagnostic tests of covid- 19. With the changes in the pandemic, the LOCT adapted lines of research and personnel, launching a project for a new vaccine (in progress) and also to meet the demands for sequencing of variants of sars-cov2.

According to Professor Fukumasu, also coordinator of the LOCT, the task force brings together professors, employees and students from the unit who have helped, so far, “more than 140,000 people who needed to take the tests quickly, accurately and cheaply”. And, even after the end of the pandemic, he says, the idea is for the laboratory to continue offering services to the population.

New methodologies for sequencing and vaccine production
The opportunity to adapt USP’s research structure to meet new demands was a determining factor for the task force’s success, says the FZEA professor. At first, they reorganized the entire laboratory routine, with students, researchers and post-docs volunteering and adapting to the new reality. With time and the success of the results, Fukumasu continues, the volunteers returned to their original activities and others were hired to work exclusively with the PCR diagnostic test.

The new community service routines went hand in hand with the research “that we were already developing in the laboratory”, says the professor, also stating that they have changed lines of research “in order to also be able to adapt to the problem” experienced by the global health crisis.

It was in response to the pandemic that the LOCT made its proposal for a vaccine project , approved last year by the Ministry of Science and Technology, and currently underway. The researchers’ idea, says Fukumasu, is to work in partnership with the Butantan Institute and complement “the vaccine approach with new candidates for phases 2 and 3, of the second and third generation”, necessary to keep the disease under control.

It was in response to the pandemic that the LOCT made its proposal for a vaccine project, approved last year by the Ministry of Science and Technology and currently underway – Photo: Heidge Fukumasu/FZEA
The pandemic also made the LOCT invest in the development of other research projects, such as “new sequencing methodologies, PCR, to determine the evolution of variants”, informs the professor.

Rapid responses to the pandemic in the region
USP Pirassununga’s Covid-19 Diagnostic Task Force is one of the five centers of the USP Covid-19 Diagnostic Network (Rudic) that are part of the Covid-19 Diagnostic Network of the State of São Paulo and the New Variants Alert Network, both led by the Butantan Institute.

At the beginning of the pandemic, says Professor Fukumasu, tests were scarce and the public network could not diagnose cases that only increased, taking more than 20 days to deliver the results. With the task force created at FZEA, according to the professor, the results started to come out in a maximum of 12 hours. Now, the laboratory delivers the result within six hours of receiving the sample.

The LOCT is also responsible for the genetic sequencing of the virus, helping the New Variants Alert Network to diagnose and sequencing the variants circulating in the Pirassununga region. The FZEA laboratory was the first to detect the P1 and delta variants in the region, giving researchers and authorities quick access to “what is happening in relation to the variants in the region”, says the professor.