Precision medicine research company Sano Genetics is gathering DNA of people with symptoms of Long COVID, to help advance research into the virus and identify a possible link between genetic make-up and response to COVID-19.
So far, links have been made between genetics and COVID-19 infection risk and severity, but researchers need to go further to fully understand why some people experience long-term symptoms and others recover quickly.
The study hopes to attract a diverse cohort that represents the UK population, particularly as some groups appear to be more vulnerable than others.
Researchers from Sano Genetics will be sending out 3,000 free at-home DNA tests to gather information for the project.
Dr David Strain, who runs the Long COVID clinic at Exeter University Medical School and is the principal investigator for the study, says: “As this disease affects people indiscriminately, from all walks of life, it will be important that we get as representative a population as possible. All ages, genders and ethnicities can help us understand and thus fight this disease.
“The importance of understanding why some people are left with lasting symptoms–often after only minor original infections–cannot be under-estimated. Now we have a greater knowledge of what our genes actually do, if we can identify those that predispose an individual to developing long COVID, it could open the doors to potential treatment.”
Long COVID symptoms may include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, brain fog, insomnia, pins and needles, joint pain, depression and anxiety, diarrhoea, stomach aches, tinnitus and rashes.
Anyone who has had COVID-19 related symptoms for longer than three weeks can sign up online and receive a free at-home DNA testing kit. A positive COVID-19 test or a hospital stay are not required in order to participate.
Anonymised genetic data will then be securely shared within the research consortium so the scientific community can work together on COVID-19 treatments.
Dr Patrick Short, CEO and co-founder of Sano Genetics, says: “Tens of thousands of people in the UK have reported experiences of Long COVID, with symptoms lasting longer than three weeks. However, patients who have not required hospitalisation have no clear path for engaging with the healthcare system, as the complex symptoms and causes of the disease are not yet fully understood.
“Understanding how our genetics influence our response to COVID-19 is key to better protecting vulnerable people, developing effective treatments, and helping the world safely open back up.
“There has also historically been a huge bias in genetics studies toward analysing data primarily from people of white European backgrounds, meaning new discoveries do not always apply to everyone, and we want to make sure this study does not make the same mistakes.”
Sano Genetics is a member of the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, led by researchers from the Finnish Institute for Molecular Medicine, the Broad Institute of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and will share de-identified data with this international group of scientists. Sano Genetics has been awarded £133,000 by Innovate UK to offer Long COVID patients free DNA testing kits they can use at home.
People who have already used DNA testing services such as 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, LivingDNA, Nebula Genomics, or Dante Labs, can update their COVID-19 status via the Sano Genetics website and upload their existing DNA data.
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