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18.05.20

Government launches major long-term study of coronavirus immunity

As many as 20,000 people are looking to be recruited as part of a major new government-funded study to further track and understand the spread of coronavirus in the general population across England, Scotland and Wales.

The research is seeking to measure blood antibodies to help determine what proportion of the population has already had the infection, the duration of immunity after being infected and why people are affected by the virus differently.

Led by UK Biobank, the study was developed alongside the Wellcome Trust and draws on world-leading scientific expertise from the University of Oxford, being supported by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC). It will form part of the government testing strategy to conduct UK-wide surveillance testing to learn more about the virus and its spread.

Participants to the study will be chosen from existing, consented UK Biobank volunteers, as well as their adult children and grandchildren. It is the first time UK Biobank has opened up a research study to the next generation of participants, helping to ensure all religions, ages and socio-economic groups are represented in the study.

Each month, participants in the long-term study will be asked to provide a sample of blood using a finger-prick device and complete a short questionnaire about any relevant symptoms they may have experienced. De-identified samples will then be returned to UK Biobank for processing before being sent for validated antibody testing at the University of Oxford.

This information will help inform future Government strategy on the ongoing response to the virus, including lockdown and social distancing measures. The first results from initial participants are expected to be available in early June.

READ MORE: Major new study announced to sequence human genomes

READ MORE: Home testing programme planned to track levels of coronavirus

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said: “Our response to this pandemic is rightly guided by the science and based on the best available evidence - so I’m determined to do everything we can to learn more about coronavirus.

“This UK Biobank study will build our understanding of the rate of COVID-19 infection in the general population and, importantly, it will add to our knowledge about the risk factors that mean the virus can affect individuals differently.

“Alongside the ongoing ONS and Imperial College research, the results of this study will assist our virus modelling and inform future plans for managing the pandemic.”

UK Biobank was established by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council and has followed the health of 500,000 UK participants over the last 10 years through detailed health records, genetic and lifestyle data.

As a result, it is uniquely well-placed to investigate whether the immune response to coronavirus differs between people with different genetic backgrounds.

UK Biobank Principal Investigator, Sir Rory Collins, added: “We believe most people have mild or no symptoms of infection with coronavirus, but a small proportion fall very ill. This study will help determine the proportion of people who have been infected and, crucially, how long they are immune from further infection.

“Much better understanding of what proportion of the population has been infected, how long antibodies to coronavirus stay in the blood, and whether immunity wears off, are vital to managing this pandemic.”

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