UCHealth started providing free antibody testing earlier this year and now its asking patients to also consider allowing a sample of their blood to be used for genetic research not only on COVID-19 but also other diseases.
Researchers at UCHealth are part of the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative but they also want to learn about viruses like the flu and other SARS infections.
“We firmly believe that there is at least a genetic component to this,” Dr. Barnes told CBS4 on Tuesday over a video conference call. “We can now really begin to dig into the genetic basis for this disease and they’re making a major contribution by agreeing to do that.”
UCHealth wants to find out more about coronavirus, so the health organization is asking for samples to use for genetic testing. The researchers want to find out why some people are more susceptible than others to contract coronavirus and get sick.
“This is fantastic because it helps us get a better handle on the pandemic itself,” said Dr. Kathleen Barnes, director of the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. “It helps us to understand individuals who have previously been exposed and previously been infected and we can learn a lot from that.”
The hope from the testing is to create earlier detection and find new ways to treat and monitor infections.
The research could help doctors learn more about rare diseases, cancers, as well as more common and infectious diseases. Looking into the genetics of the coronavirus started immediately after the pandemic began and data already shows a possible link to other diseases. Researchers all over the world are working together to see what they can find out by collecting samples from people across continents.
It is giving the public a renewed faith in science, the doctor said.
“We now have over 200 centers literally around the world across all continents and countries,” Barnes said. “Contributing samples and data to put all this information together to begin to understand what about genetics susceptibility that might make you not only at risk of the disease but also developing severe disease and possibly even death from the disease.”
But for the work they’re doing on genetics to be effective they need a large sample of patients. In some cases, the diseases they are studying only affect five percent of the population. Doctors are calling on people in Colorado to keep supporting the work they’re doing at UCHealth, patient information remains anonymous but it gives them the chance to be a part of a global cause.
“It is a numbers game,” Barnes said. “We need many many individuals because many of these genetics variations that we’re looking for only occur in a very small number of individuals.”
All of the data will help to give a better understanding about COVID-19 and could help with the development of a vaccine. In addition to looking at what other diseases are associated with the coronavirus, they can also look at who is more likely to be susceptible to the disease, have a serious case of it, or face a larger chance of dying from the virus.
Ultimately, Barnes says it could prepare healthcare workers to respond to a future outbreaks or stop a future pandemic.
“The scientific community is going to be much more informed moving forward and will be better armed to prevent the situation we’re in right now,” she added.