ECSU receives $75,000 grant to support research into mutation of COVID-19 virus


ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — Elizabeth City State University announced it has received a $75,000 grant from the UNC System to support ongoing research into the mutation of the COVID-19 virus.

According to Dr. Hirendrana Banerjee, the grant’s principal investigator, there are multiple strains of the virus out there. It is important to identify which one is infecting people throughout the Northeastern North Carolina region as the information will provide insight into future vaccine development.

“If we can identify the strains and compare them to the rest of the country, we can develop new vaccines,” said Banerjee, an ECSU natural sciences professor who holds a medical degree and a Ph.D. in biology. “Our current vaccines will help but we will have to develop new vaccines moving forward.”

Banerjee says that viruses have an unstable genome and they mutate. He said new strains identified around the world – the South African and United Kingdom strains are the most recent – are a product of this natural tendency for mutation.

“Every six months to a year, the viral genome changes,” he continued.

Last spring, N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill awarded ECSU $1 million to aid in COVD-19 research, testing, and other related activities.

Banerjee was approached by ECSU’s COVID-19 Mitigation Project lead, Dr. Kuldeep Rawat, to establish a “COVID detection lab.”

Now, he is working with three natural science graduate students – Joseph Headley, Kayla Johnson, and Chelsea Aurelius – to identify which strains are impacting the region. This includes testing samples from across the region as the surge in cases continues.

In addition to providing COVID-19 testing, the ECSU Mitigation project announced earlier this week that ECSU has entered into Mutual Use Agreements (MUAs) with Sentara Albemarle Medical Center and Albemarle Regional Health Services to provide ultra-low temperature storage freezers for vaccine storage.

The MUAs also outlines a strategy for the institutions to share resources to better fight the rising tide of the virus.

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