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Researchers Publish Playbook for Equitable Viral Genomic Sequencing

August 8, 2023 ― Researchers from three southern U.S. states have published a playbook, “Building a Collaborative and Equitable Viral Genomic Surveillance Program: A Playbook for Researchers, Clinicians, Administrators, and Allies,” pioneering a framework for establishing collaborative, community-centered infectious diseases surveillance programs. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, collaborators from academic institutions in Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia have refined a method to expand viral genomic surveillance and ensure that historically marginalized groups are represented in community health data.

“Genomic surveillance helps track infectious diseases, clarify who is most at risk, and take action to limit the spread and protect people’s health. But historic disparities in healthcare access have meant that – for far too long – genomic surveillance has excluded medically underserved communities,” said Dr. Jamie Newman, Associate Professor, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, College of Applied and Natural Sciences at Louisiana Tech University. “Establishing an equity-focused, collaborative genomic surveillance program is possible, and this new Playbook breaks down the process we followed.”

The Playbook includes a suite of resources to support researchers and health officials committed to improving equity in genomic sequencing and global infectious disease surveillance. The results of the partnership are also detailed in an article recently published in PLOS Global Public Health, “A collaborative approach to improve representation in viral genomic surveillance.”

“Tools like viral sampling and sequencing are essential for tracking emerging threats to human health and mobilizing the resources to contain them — but such tools have historically excluded some of the most vulnerable people,” said Dr. Bruce Gellin, Chief of Global Public Health Strategy at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The Rockefeller Foundation remains committed to improving equity and community representation in pathogen surveillance, and we commend these leaders for creating a playbook that will help other researchers put these principles into practice.”

Genome sequencing has been vital for understanding SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and is essential for detecting and tracking new variants of the virus. Traditional methods rely on samples from clinics or hospitals, but many rural and medically underserved communities lack access to Covid-19 testing, leaving cases uncounted and communities unaware of the current health risks. In 2021, The Rockefeller Foundation awarded a grant to Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Shreveport, Grambling State University, and Louisiana Tech University to enhance, expand, and diversify regional SARS-CoV-2 surveillance efforts.

“Without resources to gather samples, equipment to process them, or networks to share sequences, it can be difficult to run an effective genomic sequencing program in medically underserved communities – and that ultimately leads to gaps in local health guidance and care,” said Dr. Paul Kim, Assistant Professor, Cell Biology at Grambling State University. “By partnering with sample donors and clinicians, we were able to improve the diversity of people represented in genomic sequencing data. Over time, we believe these methods will build trust in the sampling and testing process, strengthen public health guidance, and create opportunities for the next generation of health researchers and leaders to continue building these models for equity.”

Within the region, efforts have increased representation of underserved groups in viral genomic surveillance while also providing research opportunities for students at participating academic institutions. In 2022, partners in Louisiana expanded their network to include teams at Mercer University in Georgia and Jackson State University in Mississippi.

“This genomic surveillance project provided an opportunity for us as scientists to find a fairer, more inclusive way to detect diseases affecting a population – and not just the people with easy access to doctors,” said Dr. Ifedayo Victor Ogungbe, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Jackson State University.

Through collaboration and leveraging their respective research backgrounds, more than 1,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes from Covid-19 test samples – including samples from underserved communities, gathered with informed consent – have been sequenced to date and made publicly available.

“Publishing viral genomes gives the world an up-to-date read on how a virus is changing, and can help develop better tools to fight it and keep people healthy,” said Jeremy Kamil, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology & Immunology. “That’s why genome sequencing should be available to every community, so that local health officials have the data necessary to make informed recommendations. We designed the playbook to help research teams across the country and the world build on our model and learn from our experiences.”

About LSU Health Shreveport

LSU Health Shreveport (LSUHS) is one of two health sciences centers of the Louisiana State University (LSU) System and home to one of only 155 medical schools in the nation accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). The primary mission of LSUHS is to teach, heal, and discover in order to advance the well-being of the state, region and beyond. LSU Health Shreveport encompasses the School of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies and School of Allied Health Professions, Graduate Medical Education (GME), and a robust research enterprise. At any one time, more than 1,000 students are enrolled in degree programs, and nearly 600 residents and fellows are enrolled in LSUHS training programs while treating patients at participating sites (hospitals and clinics) throughout north Louisiana. At the heart of LSU Health Shreveport is a strong faculty that includes a number of nationally and internationally acclaimed physicians and scientists. More than 600 strong, they lead research efforts, educate students, train residents and fellows, and provide primary and specialty care to patients throughout the region. Research is a core aspect of our institution’s mission and values, and LSU Health Shreveport is committed to fostering collaboration and discovery to advance the knowledge and practice of science and medicine. Faculty, staff and students are actively engaged in research across a variety of biomedical areas that ranges from traditional basic science research in the lab to translational research and testing of new treatment and prevention methods in clinical trials. LSU Health Shreveport is home to six research centers, four of which are designated Centers of Research Excellence by the Louisiana Board of Regents, that concentrate on public healthcare needs of the state and region including cancer, cardiovascular disease, virology, immunology, neuroscience, and addiction. LSU Health Shreveport has established strong community support and is committed to fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion that promotes mutual respect for all. For more information, visit

About Grambling State University

Grambling State University combines the academic strengths of a major university with the benefits of a small college, a combination that enables our students to grow and learn in a serene and positive environment. We offer more than forty (40) undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs through four colleges, including two professional schools and a graduate school. Additional academic support units include the University College, Earl Lester Cole Honors College, Continuing Education and Service-Learning, and Army ROTC. National, regional, and local employers recruit graduates from Grambling’s excellent programs in nursing, computer science, teacher education, the arts, and other academic areas.

About Louisiana Tech University

Louisiana Tech University offers students an unparalleled learning experience and was named a Top Tier National University for the 12th straight year in the USNWR 2023 Best Colleges Report. With 79 undergraduate majors, 32 master’s degree programs, and nine doctoral programs, Louisiana Tech has a history of and commitment to creating programs that are the first in their fields, like biomedical and cyber engineering. Our partnerships with business, government and the military help create academic programs, opportunities for impactful research, and job development in the I-20 Cyber Corridor. Learn more about Louisiana Tech at

About Mercer University

Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. With more than 9,000 students enrolled in 12 schools and colleges, on major campuses in Macon and Atlanta; medical school sites in Macon, Savannah and Columbus; and at regional academic centers in Henry and Douglas counties, Mercer is ranked among the top tier of national research universities by U.S. News & World Report. The Mercer Health Sciences Center includes the University’s School of Medicine and Colleges of Nursing, Health Professions and Pharmacy. Mercer is affiliated with five teaching hospitals – Atrium Health Navicent The Medical Center and Piedmont Macon Medical Center in Macon, Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, and Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis-Emory Healthcare in Columbus. The University also has an educational partnership with Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. It operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon, an engineering research center in Warner Robins, and Mercer Medicine clinics in Sumter, Peach, Clay, Putnam and Harris counties. Mercer is one of only 290 institutions nationwide to shelter a chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society; one of eight institutions to hold membership in the Georgia Research Alliance; and the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program.

About Jackson State University

Jackson State University, founded in 1877, is a historically black, high research activity university located in Jackson, the capital city of Mississippi. Jackson State’s nurturing academic environment challenges individuals to change lives through teaching, research and service. Officially designated as Mississippi’s Urban University, Jackson State continues to enhance the state, nation and world through comprehensive economic development, healthcare, technological and educational initiatives. The only public university in the Jackson metropolitan area, Jackson State is located near downtown, with five satellite locations throughout the area. For more information, visit or call 601-979-2121.

About The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation that enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We make big bets to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal and sustainable. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to health care and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

Media Contact

Davina Dukuly
The Rockefeller Foundation

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