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Alaska Biomedical Researchers Receive Funding to Track COVID-19 Variants

Jul 21, 2021 | Healthcare, Science

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A team of University of Alaska biomedical researchers will join a federally funded effort to improve tracking of COVID-19 variants throughout the state.

The National Institutes of Health is providing a $770,000 grant to support efforts to sequence and analyze genomes of variants circulating in Alaska. The program will expand efforts in the state to include cases detected in Indigenous health networks and provide a way to share information about “variants of concern” throughout the health system.

NIH funds the Institutional Development Award program (IDeA), and a team of researchers with the Alaska IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, or INBRE, will receive the grant. The INBRE program is part of a federal effort to boost research capacity in certain targeted states, including Alaska.

“This award shows that the National Institutes of Health recognizes the importance of extending research on the changing nature of the COVID-19 virus to rural states like Alaska and our important Alaska Native communities,” said Brian Barnes, the INBRE program director and principal investigator of the effort.

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Participants include University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers Jack Chen and Devin Drown, and University of Alaska Anchorage researchers Jason Burkhead, Cindy Knall and Eric Bortz.

Other collaborators on the project include the Southcentral Foundation and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

Chen, an associate professor of virology, also is the deputy director of the Alaska State Virology Laboratory on the Fairbanks campus. That joint appointment boosts opportunities for collaboration between UAF and the state’s public health labs amid a pandemic, he said.

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