As Omicron variant reaches U.S., Jackson Lab continues COVID research in Maine

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 5:36 PM EST
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BAR HARBOR, Maine (WABI) - The Jackson Lab is continuing its work identifying COVID variants. As the Omicron variant makes its way into the U.S., that research is playing a major role in giving hospitals the information necessary to plan for providing health care. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus hasn’t been identified in Maine yet, but scientists at the Jackson Lab studying the virus aren’t naive about its inevitable arrival.

“I think we all expect that this will come at some point in time,” said Jackson Lab Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jens Reuter. “Like all the other variants, it may take a little bit longer to come to the state of Maine, but I’m sure we’ll see it eventually.”

The Lab continues to provide the majority of the sequencing of positive cases in Maine, providing a bridge between research and health care, according to MDI Hospital President & CEO Chrissi Maguire.

“The work that JAX does is monumental in that intersection of mitigating spread,” Maguire said. “The rapid cycle turnaround is ultimately important and that’s where they’re so efficient at the work that they do, being able to provide that back to the state for us to be able to do the population and pandemic planning that we need to do in any of our communities.”

“With the Omicron variant, one of the reasons why there’s so much concern about it is that there are a number of mutations in that spike protein region which is the part of the virus that is needed to dock on to human cells,” Reuter explained. “And, it’s also the specific target of the different vaccines that are currently available in the U.S.”

Reuter also added that the work being done at JAX is proactive in fighting the virus, not reactive.

“It’s a little bit difficult to tell because it appears that, you know, a new variant arises, gets a lot of attention, right? And, it appears then that we’re scrambling to respond to it. Well, in reality I think we’ve been expecting this in the scientific community that this will occur, and there are a number of efforts going on both on the research level as well as on the the clinical level. So, I think over time, we will slowly begin to master this better and hopefully make it less of a public health risk, which ultimately is what we really need to worry about.”

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