Genomics England will Sequence Human Genomes in Fight Against Coronavirus

Genomics England wants to find out how a person’s genetic makeup could influence how they react to COVID-19. To find out, they (and their partners) will sequence the genomes of thousands of patients severely ill with coronavirus.

A major new human whole genome sequencing study will take place across the NHS, involving up to 20,000 people currently or previously in an intensive care unit with coronavirus, as well as 15,000 individuals who have mild or moderate symptoms.

Genomics England is partnering with the GenOMICC consortium, Illumia and the NHS to launch the research drive, which will reach patients in 170 intensive care units throughout the UK.

The project is backed by £28 million from Genomics England, UK Research and Innovation, the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health Research. Illumina will sequence all 35,000 genomes and share some of the cost via an in-kind contribution.

The study, facilitated by the University of Edinburgh and multiple HNHS hospitals, will explore varied effects coronavirus has on patients, supporting the search for treatments by identifying those most at risk and helping to track new therapies into clinical trials.

Since genetic discoveries need very large numbers of patients, the GenOMICC study ultimately aims to recruit every single COVID-19 patient who is admitted to intensive care in the UK. Patients will only be enrolled in the study if they, or their next of kin, have given consent. As part of the study so far, DNA samples have been collected from almost 2,000 patients.

By combining the genomes with rich clinical characteristics and comparing those who become severely ill with those that experience a much milder illness, the consortium hopes to gain new insights into how the virus affects us.

This groundbreaking 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.

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