EghtesadOnline: During an online workshop organized by Mustafa Science and Technology Foundation, Iranian scientists from Pasteur and Royan institutes shared their Covid-19 testing experiences.
The online workshop was held on June 1, during which Kayhan Azadmanesh and Mehdi Totonchi made presentations on two of the major methods of Covid-19 testing and Iran’s experience in conducting them, the foundation’s Public Relations Office reported.
Kayhan Azadmanesh, the head of Rapid Response Team for Infectious Diseases at Pasteur Institute of Iran, shared the experience of establishing a network for Covid-19 testing in Iran.
“Every medical university in Iran is responsible for people’s health. We have 65 medical universities. We found our first two cases in February 2020 and the country reached a peak in early March,” he said.
“We started doing PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests on Jan. 25. Up to Feb. 5, only one institute conducted this test. From Feb. 9, another institute started PCR tests. By Feb. 18, we did 200 tests per day. The number of centers doing this test also increased by Feb. 18 and now a lot of institutes and medical centers do it.
The researcher noted that different types of tests pursue different goals.
“Some tests focus on detecting the presence of virus itself and some others examine the immune response of the body to the virus,” he said.
PCR tests are used to directly detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the presence of the body's immune response, or antibodies.
Azadmanesh also detailed a timeline of Covid-19 spread in Iran.
“On Feb. 19, we were sure that we have Covid-19 in the country. It first appeared in Qom city, but it was not contained there. So, on the second day of detecting the first case, we established a national laboratory committee. This committee holds meetings once a week; sometimes even twice or thrice a week. Fortunately, we have good human resources in country. We already had a network of lab for influenza and HIV, which could easily switch their focus to Covid-19,” he said.
“We also had a good system for safe and secure sample transport in the country. Medical universities in different cities collect the samples and send them to Tehran as soon as possible. However, we faced certain problems. In early February, we still did not have adequate test kits.”
According to Azadmanesh, serological tests were used in detecting Covid-19. He acknowledges that WHO does not recommend the use of antibody-detecting rapid diagnostic tests, but stresses the continuation of working on them for disease surveillance purposes.
“We don’t know if we can rely on IgM and IgG tests. According to WHO, we cannot use this method for virus detection or disease diagnosis. Sample collection is still a major challenge. We are working on collecting saliva in testing. I hope this can help us,” he said.
Brief History of Coronavirus
Mehdi Totonchi, the head of Coronavirus Laboratory and associate professor at Royan Institute’s Genetics Department, presented a brief history of coronavirus.
In 1966, the virus was first detected, but did not have serious symptoms. In 2002, SARS-CoV emerged, and in 2012 MERS-CoV was detected.
He then talked about the genome characterization of SARS-CoV-2, and said it has 79% similarity to SARS-CoV, and 50% to MERS-CoV.
Discussing the natural evolution of the h-CoV-19 virus, he asserted that it has undergone mutations throughout the time.
Totonchi stressed the importance of tracing the virus sequencing due to “diagnostic purposes and also treatment”.
“We profiled available SARS-CoV-2 sequences from Iranian patients with the objectives of tracing the ongoing outbreak, designing more specific diagnostic tests and exploring therapeutic processes. Twenty full genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 from Iranian patients were gathered. There were amino acid changes in virus mutations. Nucleotide and protein mutations were investigated in detail to trace the SARS-Cov-2 sequence changes in Iran,” he said.
Totonchi concluded that more full genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 are needed from Iranian patients to “find more reliable changes of this virus” in the country.