23andMe is Doing a Genetic Study on COVID-19

Beginning this week, 23andMe hopes to enroll hundreds of thousands of 23andMe customers in the United States to participate in a study about COVID-19. The study will include both individuals who have and have not tested positive for the virus.

Scientists can quickly look for genetic variants that are more common among research participants who are sick with the virus, and see if there are genetic differences in those with the most severe symptoms.

The study will be conducted using online surveys. It may also include contributions from those with family members that have experienced an infection. An external and independent ethics committee known as an institutional review board will oversee the work.

23andMe will be asking people to participate in an initial baseline survey and inviting them back to take an additional survey on a monthly basis. This will enable 23andMe to collect data regarding new infections in the population should the outbreak continue to spread.

Their scientists then will run a genome-wide association study. The purpose is to identify genetic variants associated with differences in the severity of the disease.

This week, 23andMe scientists began a study of COVID-19, to understand how genetics may influence the differences in severity of the disease among people. A person’s age, exposure, and underlying health determine much of these genetic differences. 23andMe says that genetics also likely play a role. 23andMe stated that they know from other infectious diseases that genetics can influence susceptibility They want to learn if genetics affect the severity of the symptoms.

While 23andMe hopes to gain insights from this research, there are no guarantees that they will find that genetics play a significant role. In fact, the best possible outcome is that the pandemic decelerates, which could leave 23andMe unable to identify people with COVID-19, and would limit their ability to identify genetic associations.

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