The first course in this programme − The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic − launches on 7 February 2022 and will be hosted online on the FutureLearn platform. This course is the first in a series of five, all of which will be released online.
It is free to learners across the world and will show how genomics has improved the response to COVID-19, how COVID-19 vaccines and other therapies are developed, and how sharing genomic sequencing helps healthcare professionals understand disease epidemiology, allowing them to give better advice to policy makers and governments.
It was developed with an international audience in mind, with scientists working on SARS-CoV-2 genomics based in Argentina, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Thailand, and the UK contributing their knowledge and expertise to this course. A larger group of experts from Asia, Africa and Latin America have provided advice on the training needs in their regions.
The first course will provide a broad introduction to COVID-19 genome sequencing, and is designed for anyone interested in learning more about the genomic response to the current pandemic. This includes early career researchers, healthcare professionals, science journalists, policymakers, and those working in public health, or anyone who wants to know more about how genomics has helped to shape the global response to the virus so far.
A series of more technical online courses for researchers and healthcare professionals will follow. These will concentrate on multiple topics, such as sampling and data acquisition, and the associated legal and ethical issues along with the sequencing and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes, including the identification of new variants. In addition to this, one will focus on genomics in clinical practice and the implications for public health policy, including how to advise policy makers and health ministries.
The wider programme will also feature ‘train-the-trainer’ courses, supporting scientists and healthcare professionals to learn about bioinformatics analysis and sequencing. This is so they can acquire the knowledge to develop and deliver their own courses, and train more healthcare workers in their own countries.
A ‘remote classroom’ model will be used to increase the reach and impact of the learning materials, with training being delivered simultaneously in multiple classrooms across many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This allows the knowledge and the experience gained from this pandemic to be shared globally.
Overall the programme will help create a global network of experts and frontline workers who will share data, support and advise on further developments in the fight against COVID-19, or other infectious disease outbreaks.
Dr Catherine Ludden, Director of Operations for the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) and Director of COG-Train, said: “Alongside Wellcome Connecting Science and the Unviersity of Cambridge, we have created this programme for those working at the frontline of the pandemic all over the world. As genomics continues to play a key role in the fight, it is vital that healthcare workers and researchers are provided with free access to training to develop their knowledge and skills in genomics. We want to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to support them so that globally, we are more prepared to track SARS-CoV-2 and any other pandemics in the future.”
Dr Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz, a member of the focus group for COG-Train, from the Institute of Human Genetics, National Institutes of Health, University of the Philippines Manila said: “The pandemic underscored the huge roles that genomics and bioinformatics play in public health response to emerging infectious diseases. This training gives opportunities for countries with limited resources to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to address their own needs and to prepare them towards precision medicine, the future of healthcare.”
Dr Gerald Mboowa, who contributed to the course content, from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the importance of integrating as well as strengthening pathogen genomics in every National Public Health Laboratory or Institution disease surveillance programme.”
Dr Treasa Creavin, Head of Conferences and Online Training at Wellcome Connecting Science said: “Sharing international expertise and knowledge about genomics is important to help health agencies around the world to identify and inform public health strategies to control disease outbreaks like COVID-19. This programme provides free, accessible training for people globally who are working at the forefront of COVID-19. It will use a unique blend of online courses, virtual versions of train-the-trainer and remote classrooms to deliver high quality training that can strengthen the capacity of scientists worldwide. This programme can also help create a network of professionals, so that information and support can be shared freely.”