Clinical laboratories and pathology groups may soon have new assays for diagnosis, treatment identification, patient monitoring
It’s here at last! The human Y chromosome now has a full and complete sequence. This achievement by an international team of genetic researchers is expected to open the door to significant insights in how variants and mutations in the Y chromosome are involved in various diseases and health conditions. In turn, these insights could lead to new diagnostic assays for use by clinical laboratories and pathology groups.
Pathologists and clinical laboratories involved in genetic research will understand the significance of this accomplishment. The full Y chromosome sequence “fills in gaps across more than 50% of the Y chromosome’s length, [and] uncovers important genomic features with implications for fertility, such as factors in sperm production,” SciTechDaily noted.
This breakthrough will make it possible for other research teams to gain further understanding of the functions of the Y chromosome and how specific gene variants and mutations contribute to specific health conditions and diseases. In turn, knowledge of those genetic sequences and mutations would give clinical laboratories the assays that help diagnosis, identify relevant therapies, and monitor a patient’s progress.
“When you find variation that you haven’t seen before, the hope is always that those genomic variants will be important for understanding human health,” said Adam Phillippy, PhD, a senior investigator and head of the Genome Informatics Section at the National Human Genome Research Institute, in a press release. Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups may soon have new assays based on the T2T study findings. (Photo copyright: National Human Genome Research Institute.)
Study Background and Recognition
Revolutionary thinking by the Telomere-to-Telomere (T2T) scientists led to the team’s breakthrough. The researchers “applied new DNA sequencing technologies and sequence assembly methods, as well as knowledge gained from generating the first gapless sequences for the other 23 human chromosomes,” SciTechDaily reported.
In 1977, the first complete genome of an organism was sequenced. Thus began the commencement of sequencing technology research. Twenty years ago the first human genome sequence was completed. The result was thanks to years of work through the preferred “chain termination” (aka, Sanger Sequencing) method developed by Fred Sanger and a $2.7 billion contribution from the Human Genome Project, according to a study published in the African Journal of Laboratory Medicine (AJLM).
By 2005, a new era in genomic sequencing emerged. Scientists now employed a technique called pyrosequencing and the change had great benefits. “Massively parallel or next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies eliminated the need for multiple personnel working on a genome by automating DNA cleavage, amplification, and parallel short-read sequencing on a single instrument, thereby lowering costs and increasing throughput,” the AJLM paper noted.
The new technique brought great results. “Next-generation sequencing technologies have made sequencing much easier, faster and cheaper than Sanger sequencing,” the AJLM study authors noted.
The changes allowed more sequencing to be completed. Nevertheless, more than half of the Y chromosome sequence was still unknown until the new findings from the T2T study, SciTechDaily reported.
Why the TDT Breakthrough Is So Important
“The biggest surprise was how organized the repeats are,” said Adam Phillippy, PhD, a senior investigator and head of the NHGRI. “We didn’t know what exactly made up the missing sequence. It could have been very chaotic, but instead, nearly half of the chromosome is made of alternating blocks of two specific repeating sequences known as satellite DNA. It makes a beautiful, quilt-like pattern.”
Much can be gained in knowing more about the Y chromosome. Along with the X chromosome, it is significant in sexual development. Additionally, current research is showing that genes on the Y chromosome are linked to the risk and severity of cancer.
Might What Comes Next Give Clinical Labs New Diagnostic Tools?
The variety of new regions of the Y chromosome that the T2T team discovered bring into focus several areas of new genetic research. For instance, the “azoospermia factor region, a stretch of DNA containing several genes known to be involved in sperm production” was uncovered, and “with the newly completed sequence, the researchers studied the structure of a set of inverted repeats or palindromes in the azoospermia factor region,” SciTechDaily reported.
“This structure is very important because occasionally these palindromes can create loops of DNA. Sometimes, these loops accidentally get cut off and create deletions in the genome,” said Arang Rhie, PhD, a staff scientist at NHGRI and first author of the Nature study.
Missing regions would challenge the production of sperm, impacting fertility, so being able to finally see a complete sequence will help research in this area.
Scientists are only just beginning to recognize the value of this breakthrough to future genetic research and development. As genetic sequencing costs continue to drop, the T2T research findings could mean new treatment options for pathologists and diagnostic assays for clinical laboratories are just around the corner.
In “SARS-CoV-2 RBD Antibodies That Maximize Breadth and Resistance to Escape,” the researchers described how they compared 12 antibodies obtained from patients infected with either SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-CoV-1. They pointed to one antibody in particular—S2H97—that could lead to development of new vaccines and therapies against current and future variants. It might even protect against sarbecoviruses that have not yet been identified, they wrote.
Unsaid in the news release about these research findings is the fact that these particular antibodies could eventually become useful biomarkers for clinical laboratory tests designed to help physicians determine which patients have these antibodies—and the protection from infection they represent—and which do not.
So far, however, S2H97 has only been tested in hamsters. But results are promising.
“This antibody, which binds to a previously unknown site on the coronavirus spike protein, appears to neutralize all known sarbecoviruses—the genus of coronaviruses that cause respiratory infections in mammals,” said Jay Nix, PhD, an affiliate in Berkeley Lab’s Biosciences Area and Beamline Director of the Molecular Biology Consortium at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), in a Berkeley Lab news release. “And, due to the unique binding site on mutation-resistant part of the virus, it may well be more difficult for a new strain to escape,” he added.
The Delta variant, the CDC notes, was the predominant variant in the US as of August 28, 2021. It “has been shown to have increased transmissibility, potential reduction in neutralization by some monoclonal antibody treatments, and reduction in neutralization by post-vaccination sera,” the agency states.
The key to S2H97, the researchers wrote, is that it targets a portion of the spike protein that is common among sarbecoviruses, and that is likely to be resistant to mutations.
The researchers used a variety of techniques to analyze how the 12 antibodies bind to the virus. They “compiled a list of thousands of mutations in the binding domains of multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Nature reported. “They also catalogued mutations in the binding domain on dozens of SARS-CoV-2-like coronaviruses that belong to a group called the sarbecoviruses. Finally, they assessed how all these mutations affect the 12 antibodies’ ability to stick to the binding domain.”
Earlier Antibody Treatment Receives an EUA from the FDA
In issuing the EUA for sotrovimab, the FDA cited “an interim analysis from a phase 1/2/3 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in 583 non-hospitalized adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms and a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result. Of these patients, 291 received sotrovimab and 292 received a placebo within five days of onset of COVID-19 symptoms.”
Among these patients, 21 in the placebo group were hospitalized or died compared with three who received the therapy, an 85% reduction.
“While preventive measures, including vaccines, can reduce the total number of cases, sotrovimab is an important treatment option for those who become ill with COVID-19 and are at high risk—allowing them to avoid hospitalization or worse,” stated Adrienne E. Shapiro, MD, PhD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in a GSK news release. Shapiro was an investigator in the clinical trial.
The EUA allows use of sotrovimab in patients who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, have mild-to-moderate symptoms, and “who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death. This includes, for example, individuals who are 65 years of age and older or individuals who have certain medical conditions.” It is not authorized for patients who are hospitalized or for those who require oxygen therapy.
The therapy was originally known as VIR-7831. The companies say they have developed a similar treatment, VIR-7832, with modifications designed to enhance T cell function against the disease.
The antibody, they wrote, targets a region of the SARS-CoV-1 spike protein that is “highly conserved” among sarbecoviruses. Clinical laboratory testing, they wrote, also indicated that the therapy was likely to be effective against known SARS-CoV-2 variants.
“Our distinctive scientific approach has led to a single monoclonal antibody that, based on an interim analysis, resulted in an 85% reduction in all-cause hospitalizations or death, and has demonstrated, in vitro, that it retains activity against all known variants of concern, including the emerging variant from India,” stated Vir Biotechnology CEO George Scangos, PhD, in the GSK news release. “I believe that sotrovimab is a critical new treatment option in the fight against the current pandemic and potentially for future coronavirus outbreaks, as well.”
Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers working with rapid molecular tests and antibody tests for COVID-19 will want to monitor the development of monoclonal antibody treatments, as well as further research studies that focus on these specific antibodies.