At Upstate Medical University, every COVID-positive lab-tested for omicron

Onondaga County

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR) — NEWS10’s sister station in Syracuse got rare access into the testing labs at Upstate Medical University on Monday. There, researchers hunt for local detections of the omicron variant of coronavirus.

All tests through Upstate’s labs still show delta as the only variant, but lab technicians expect omicron any day.

This year alone, nearly two million people have gotten their coronavirus test results from the labs at Upstate. Positive cases aren’t just reported back to the patient; they go on to be studied for virus mutations. Upstate is one of only four labs in the region approved by the New York’s Department of Health to look for virus variants like omicron.

According to Professor Frank Middleton explains that as each human has unique DNA, so does the virus their body replicates. Middleton and his team, in partnership with Quadrant Biosciences, developed a saliva-based test approved by the FDA last summer.

Researchers identify differences between viruses, and the genetic package of each sample is taken apart chemically. Computers compare the results to less-evolved strains and visually highlight the mutant components. Over time, regular mutations become the next named variant.

Middleton puts local results into an international database, where labs in other countries have already registered the genetic blueprint of Omicron. Looking at the research, Middleton admits his concern that the “S Gene,” the spike protein of the virus, targeted by the vaccine’s antibodies, shows 30 more mutations. “An alarming difference,” says Middleton.

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