UK researchers try to crack genetic riddle of COVID-19

James Marshall
August 1, 2020

Patients across 170 intensive care units will be reached out to for the study, which aims to sequence the whole genetic code of 20,000 people who are now, or have been, in an intensive care unit with Covid-19, as well as 15,000 individuals who have mild or moderate symptoms.

Patients will have their results compared with 15,000 people who have suffered only mild or moderate symptoms.

"This ground-breaking research may help explain why some patients with coronavirus experience a mild infection, others require intensive care and why some patients die from the disease", the statement added.

Part of the study will also focus on children and young adults severely affected by Covid-19.

It is hoped all patients going into intensive care - with their consent or the consent of their next of kin - can be studied. "Genomics England, is partnering with the GenOMICC consortium, Illumina and the NHS to launch the research drive, which will reach patients in 170 intensive care units throughout the United Kingdom", the statement read.

Illumina will sequence all 35,000 genomes and share some of the cost.

More than 2,000 patients have already donated DNA to the project, which has secured 28 million pounds ($34 million) in funding.

"It's all part of building a scientific picture of this virus and finding out as much as we possibly can so that we can defeat it once and for all", said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who described the project as "a further major programme in the UK's fight against COVID-19".

If genes are found that indicate why some people get sicker than others with COVID-19, it could help guide the development of treatments, and help guide the response to future waves of COVID-19 or other pandemics.

Paula Dowdy, general manager and SVP Illumina, EMEA, said: "We have a long-standing partnership with Genomics England and are proud to support this new genomics initiative from our Cambridge-based lab".

The most vulnerable patients could be identified earlier, and the most promising treatments fast-tracked into clinical trials.

This may give insights into how patient and virus genomes act together to influence how the patient responds to the virus.

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