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Home DNA tests to illuminate varying COVID-19 impacts

22 June 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1052

Results from direct-to consumer (DTC) DNA testing kits could help identify genes that influence the way COVID-19 affects different people.

By using data from popular testing services, scientists will avoid the costly and time-consuming process of collecting DNA samples to study which genes are involved in the body's response to the novel coronavirus, and why some people become unwell while others do not.

'Some people suffer no ill effects from coronavirus infection, yet others require intensive care. We need to identify the genes causing this susceptibility, so we can understand the biology of the virus and hence develop better drugs to fight it' said Professor Jim Wilson, who is co-leading the study at the University of Edinburgh's Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Genetics Unit.

The researchers are calling on 30 million people worldwide who use DTC DNA testing services, including those available from Ancestry DNA, FTDNA and 23andMe, to help understand which people are most at risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms (or none at all) based on their DNA.

Those who participate in the study, called Coronagenes, will be asked to provide their test results, as well as complete online questionnaires about their health, lifestyle, and whether they have had any virus-related symptoms. By updating their questionnaires before, during, and after infection, scientists may identify genes that influence the risk of becoming infected with the virus, as well as those that affect disease severity and duration.

'Time is of the essence. To identify the genes that explain why some people get very sick from coronavirus and others don't, we need the solidarity of a large proportion of people from different countries who can share their DNA testing results with us. In this case, size really matters' said Professor Albert Tenesa, who also co-leads the study at the University of Edinburgh.

Coronagenes also aims to look at the long-term health consequences of infection and self-isolation. It is hoped that the results of the study will not only aid efforts to treat coronavirus, but develop better ways of preventing and treating infections in the future from COVID-19 and other viruses.

Anyone aged 16 and over can volunteer for the study at Coronagenes and volunteers who have not used a DTC DNA testing kit will also be able to provide samples for the project once current UK lockdown measures are lifted.

Coronagenes is funded by the MRC, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (which is part of UK Research and Innovation), and Health Data Research UK.

Coronavirus: Home DNA test data wanted to help identify genes that increase COVID-19 risk
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