23andMe Expands its Genetic Study of COVID-19

Encouraged by strong interest, 23andMe is expanding its COVID-19 genetics study and opening enrollment to people who have been hospitalized with severe cases of the virus but are not currently 23andMe customers.

 

Launched on April 6th to existing 23andMe customers who have consented for research, the study aims to enlist hundreds of thousands of individuals to determine if there are genetic factors associated with why the virus hits some people so much harder than others. Beginning today, anyone who is eligible will be able to enroll in the study, which is no longer limited to just 23andMe customers.

Hundreds of Thousands of Participants

23andMe has already enrolled more than half a million participants in its COVID-19 study, including more than 7,000 who’ve been diagnosed with the virus. We hope to continue to add more as we gradually reach out to our millions of customers. We are now expanding the study to up to 10,000 individuals who have been hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19 but are not currently 23andMe customers. Individuals who qualify for the study and are willing to participate in online surveys will receive the 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service at no cost. (Learn more about the study and eligibility here.)

 

“Opening up the research to individuals with more severe symptoms will increase our power to learn how genes play a role in the severity of this disease,” said Joyce Tung, Ph.D., 23andMe’s Vice President of Research. 

In addition, 23andMe is encouraging hospitals and healthcare systems that are interested in collaborating on this research to reach out to us at [email protected].

 

23andMe’s Unique Research Model

Our research platform allows 23andMe to not only reach out to current customers, but also quickly recruit and genotype new research participants. We can then survey those participants, and conduct genetic studies at a massive scale. 

 

There is still much scientists do not know about this virus. It is also possible that 23andMe will not find strong genetic associations for the differences in the severity of symptoms. But we know from research that genetics plays a role in both susceptibility to and severity of other infectious diseases. For example, variants in the HBB gene influence an individual’s susceptibility to malaria.  Variants in the FUT2 gene confer some resistance to the norovirus. And variants in the HLA genes may explain the differences in the immune response to several different infections. In the case of COVID-19, there are several questions about whether genetics may explain the differences in immune response among patients. Our study could aid in assessing differences in risk among individuals. It could also guide efforts now underway to treat the disease caused by the virus.

Studying at Differences in Severity

Enrolling more individuals who have experienced severe COVID-19 symptoms in the study will enable 23andMe to investigate a spectrum of how people experience this disease. By studying those with severe symptoms versus patients with moderate or mild symptoms, 23andMe researchers will be in a better position to uncover potential genetic factors associated with the severity of the disease.

 

If we are successful in gathering enough data for this genome-wide association study, we plan to share the results of our research with the broader scientific community. We will also continue to consider the expansion of enrollment and eligibility requirements for the study.

 

If you or someone you know has been hospitalized for COVID-19 and is interested in participating in this research you can find out more here.

 


 

References:

1) Chapman SJ et al. (2012). “Human genetic susceptibility to infectious disease.” Nat Rev Genet. 13(3):175-88.

2) Tian C et al. (2017). “Genome-wide association and HLA region fine-mapping studies identify susceptibility loci for multiple common infections.” Nat Commun. 8(1):599.