How We're Tracking COVID-19 Variants

Our scientists have analyzed viruses for decades. Now, their work is in the spotlight as COVID-19 variants emerge.

How We're Tracking COVID-19 Variants
Products and Innovation | Feb. 23, 2021

Viruses mutate. They’re tenacious. We know this. It's why our monitoring remains vigilant.

Now, as COVID-19 variants emerge across the globe, Abbott scientists — Virus Hunters to us — are helping the global effort to track known variants and identify new ones.

We asked Mary Rodgers, Ph.D., principal scientist and head of Abbott’s Global Viral Surveillance Program, to walk us through how this crucial work is done.

"Abbott scientists have been tracking viruses for decades and now we're using our expertise to help the global scientific community look for cases of these new variants. This information is critical to containing this pandemic" Rodgers said.

To identify COVID-19 variants, our scientists complete a complex to-do list with a quick turnaround time. Rodgers breaks it down:

Step One: We work with healthcare partners to obtain leftover positive patient samples from myriad communities in the US and around the globe.

Step Two: We use next-generation sequencing technology to decode the virus’s genetic makeup. If the code doesn’t match any of 450,000 known sequences in the system, we know it’s likely a new variant. In that case, we raise a red flag to public health officials that further investigation is needed.

Step Three: We conduct an in-silico analysis to characterize the properties and structure of the viral protein to see if the parts of the virus that our tests detect would be impacted by mutation.

Step Four: We distribute any noteworthy findings with the broader scientific community or public health officials. This allows for collaboration and sharing.

As new variants are found, we also stress test our diagnostic assays to ensure they can detect the new mutation.

Over the past three decades, we have had an all hands-on deck approach when it comes to virus surveillance. We’re not new to this. We have remained vigilant. And we're currently working to expand our long legacy of virus hunting to fight this evolving pandemic and help prevent future ones.

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