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The UK Biobank releases first results from COVID-19 study

Early results analysed as part of the UK Biobank’s COVID-19 antibody study have been released. Samples that were collected from 20,000 volunteers, consisting of a mixture of both existing UK Biobank participants and their adult children and grandchildren, have provided insight into the extent of previous coronavirus infection.

Primarily funded by the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust, the UK Biobank was established in 2007 in order to track the health of a large cohort of individuals within the UK. From 2006 to 2019, 500,000 individuals were recruited across the country aged between 40 to 69 years old. Various samples and information were obtained from these individuals regarding their health. Since its release, the UK Biobank has acted as a fundamental source for researchers across the world to investigate why some individuals in the population develop diseases and others do not. The UK Biobank continues to be developed with the integration of additional information, e.g. whole-genome data.

To help in the fight against coronavirus, the UK Biobank set up a study to determine the proportion of individuals who have been previously infected with coronavirus in different populations across the UK and to investigate how these rates change over time. The researchers hope that these results will help inform potential ways to manage the pandemic.

The study recruited 20,000 volunteers, consisting of current UK Biobank participants and their adult children and grandchildren. Participants were asked to fill in a short survey about any symptoms they may have experienced and were also asked to provide blood samples for antibody analysis.

A summary of the first results from previous COVID-19 infection for May and June can be found below:

  • 7.1% of the participants had been previously infected.
  • Previous infection was most common among individuals living in London (10.4%) and least common among individuals living in South-West of England and Scotland (4.4% in both).
  • There was no difference in rates of previous infection observed between men and women.
  • The rates of previous infection were higher in younger participants (10.8% in those under 30 compared to 5.4% in those over 70).
  • Individuals living in lower socio-economic areas had higher rates of previous infection than those living in more affluent areas in the country (8.9% and 6.1%, respectively).
  • The rate of previous infection was higher among individuals of Black and South Asian ethnicity than among those of white ethnicity (11.3%, 9.0% and 6.9%, respectively).

These results have provided valuable insight into the current extent of previous COVID-19 infection. However, as part of the study, participants will continue to send monthly blood samples until the end of the year. This, in turn, will further understanding into how previous infection changes over time and hopefully aid in managing the pandemic.

Catch up on the recent ‘The Genetics Podcast’ episode with Professor Sir Rory Collins, the Principal Investigator and Chief Executive of the UK Biobank, where he discusses the success of the UK Biobank and his hopes for the future.

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Biobank / Coronavirus / covid-19