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Coronavirus crisis takes many forms

June 10, 2020

The focus of coronavirus research is far broader than general vaccines, treatments and tests. Researchers are looking into patient genetics, early-warning systems, and the special requirements of the elderly.

Scientists in the U.S. and Europe are researching how one’s unique set of genes might determine how one will fare if infected. “We see huge differences in clinical outcomes and across countries,” says geneticist Andrea Ganna of the University of Helsinki’s Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM). “How much of that is explained by genetic susceptibility is a very open question.” At least a dozen biobanks have expressed interest in contributing data for the university’s project, the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative.

The data will be valuable, and the more the better: “As the numbers mount, the way that a DNA biobank is tied into an electronic health record is extraordinarily powerful for teasing apart all sorts of questions about clinical phenomenology, pathophysiology, and eventually even treatment possibilities,” Robert Green, a medical geneticist and physician, told STAT.

Early warnings

Other researchers are looking at whether wearable devices can serve as early-warning systems for coronavirus spread. Another potential early-warning system is municipal wastewater. Researchers are detecting evidence of the virus and hope to soon be able to predict any nascent resurgence of COVID-19. “Studies in the U.S. and the Netherlands, among others, have shown you can pick up a signal about a week before the first clinical case,” STAT reports.

Special vaccine for older patients?

Finally, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital are working on a potential vaccine that would be targeted toward older populations. “Elderly individuals have a different immune system than healthy middle-aged adults and often do not respond as robustly to immunization, so a one-size vaccine does not fit all,” said Ofer Levy, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the Precision Vaccines Program at BCH. The center employs blood samples from patients of all ages.

These are just a fraction of the urgent initiatives under way as the field of medical research rallies to address the pandemic. Researchers today and in the near future will need high volumes of human biospecimens – including those of patients who have contracted COVID-19 – to explore new tests, vaccines and treatments. At iSpecimen, we’re eager to support these heroes in any way we can.