Woman in laboratory

Overwhelming response from COVID-19 volunteers

A text messaging service has seen over 7,000 people register to join a genetic study to understand why some fit, healthy people become so ill with COVID-19.

The study is a partnership between Genomics England and GenOMICC consortium, scientifically led by the University of Edinburgh, to analyse the whole genome sequences of people who have been either very severely affected by COVID-19, or who have had it with only mild or even no symptoms. The NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) supported this work by sending text messages to people who tested positive for COVID-19, inviting them to take part in the study that will explore how genetics can affect the severity of coronavirus symptoms.

Texts were sent to around 100,000 people last week who tested positive for coronavirus through the Pillar 2 mass public national testing programme.

Within 8 hours of texts being sent, 4,800 people volunteered to be part of the research programme.  Only those receiving texts are invited to join the study at this time.

Dr Kenneth Baillie, Chief Investigator at the University of Edinburgh said, "The aim of the GenOMICC COVID-19 study is to find genes, or signals in the genome, that may give us clues to help find new treatments for COVID-19. There are specific genes that make some people more susceptible than others to becoming critically ill with COVID-19. By comparing the whole genomes of people who are very susceptible, with people who got the virus but didn't develop severe disease, we will be able to identify these genes. This may help us to prioritise treatments for testing in clinical trials, or to find targets for new drugs. We need as many people as possible to participate in the study because the more people we include, the more genes we'll be able to find."

Chris Wigley, Chief Executive of Genomics England said, “The willingness of these key workers and members of the public to volunteer to support this study is truly inspiring. Their support is crucial for our research and for our medical teams if we are to understand how to treat the virus and minimise the effects of it in subsequent waves. This is a complex and tricky virus that affects people who seem similar in vastly different ways – we believe that analysing our DNA can help pin it down. These volunteers will help us explain why some people who are fit and healthy were badly affected and some who we feared would become ill were okay. 

“We are recruiting two groups – first, people who were sick enough with COVID to be put in intensive care, but who have survived and are now open to volunteer, and second, people who have tested positive, but have only had mild, if any, symptoms. We are particularly keen to recruit volunteers from ethnic minority backgrounds and people who are over the age of 68 as these groups have been shown to be at the highest risk of severe reaction to COVID-19.”

Michael Brodie, Chief Executive of the NHSBSA said, “The reaction from people who have volunteered to be part of this programme has been phenomenal. We’ve seen this time and time again across the many projects we’ve been involved in to support the national effort against COVID-19.

“It’s a privilege for us to be able to deliver an integral part of such a vital project.”

Contact Information

Jane Kartupelis

NHS Business Services Authority

jane.kartupelis@nhs.net

Notes to editors

For more information about the study, or to register interest, see https://genomicc.org/ and www.genomicsengland.co.uk/covid-19/