Genetic Make-up of MERS Mapped Out

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Study Released in Saudi Arabia to Help Control MERS

The first large step into controlling and maybe even eradicating the new Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been made. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health released a report on Tuesday, saying the genetic make-up of the virus has been mapped out, which will help finding a faster mechanism to treat the disease.

Ministry of Health’s (MoH) spokesman announced that researchers from University College in London and the UK-based Welcome Trust Sanger Institute conducted a study on four patients diagnosed with MERS-CoV. All patients were from the AL Ahsa governate which became the place with the largest number of confirmed cases so far. By studying samples of the virus, the scientists, including Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Health Minister, Ziad Memish, managed to isolate and map out the complete genetic sequences. The sequences are now registered on a genetic bank database and are accessible for all local and foreign researchers.

These genetic reports are given separately and will help scientists gain an insight into the infection. There is still little information about the disease and this study comes as the first big step into understanding it – how it is transmitted, how contagious it is, and of course, how it can be successfully treated. The researchers hope that this new information will help them develop better ways for diagnosing and treating the patients.

Posting the sequences on the public domain is maybe a precedent in the history of sharing and patenting scientific information. For the first time, Saudi Arabia is working in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the wider international scientific and health community. Of course, there are many debates relating to the patents of biological material when it comes to global outbreaks, but this is hardly an issue for physicians and their patients. According to WHO, treatment for MERS is still only supportive, which means the new genetic study is really vital. Globally, there has been a total of 55 laboratory confirmed cases of the virus. Of these, 40 occurred in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the others have been reported in other countries – Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, France, Germany, Italy , UK and Ireland. The death toll has reached 31 people.

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