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UK Biobank starts major study of coronavirus immunity

UK Biobank starts major study of coronavirus immunity

  • Major study will reveal the proportion of the population who have been infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 by measuring antibody levels in the UK population through blood samples
  • 20,000 UK Biobank participants, their children and grandchildren (aged over 18) will be asked to take part
  • The study will provide an evidence-based approach to moving out of lock-down

Thousands of UK Biobank participants are being asked to take part in a major government study to measure the extent of coronavirus infection in different regions across the UK.

Those who agree to take part will provide monthly blood samples for at least six months so that their levels of immunity (antibodies in their blood) can be measured. Researchers will use the information to determine the extent of the infection in different regions across the UK and to understand how long antibody levels persist following infection.

This major study will complement existing studies, such as the ONS Covid-19 Infection Survey, which through nasal swabs is testing for presence of the virus and will collect blood samples from 1,000 adults in English households. By collecting blood samples from 20,000 participants across the UK to understand immunity to Covid-19, UK Biobank will contribute to national efforts to ease lock-down measures.

Participants will be a representative sample of the UK population. 500,000 people joined UK Biobank between 2006-2010 when they were aged between 40-69 years. By opening the study up to their children and grandchildren aged over 18, UK Biobank hopes to recruit people across all regions, ages and socio-economic deprivation.

Participants taking part in the study will receive monthly collection kits, and will be asked to provide 0.5ml sample of blood from their fingertip. The samples will be returned in protective envelopes to UK Biobank and undergo validated antibody analysis performed by the Target Discovery Institute based at the University of Oxford.

"We believe most people have mild or no symptoms of infection with coronavirus, but a small proportion fall very ill. This study will help determine the proportion of people who have been infected and, crucially, how long they are immune from further infection. Much better understanding of how long antibodies to coronavirus stay in the blood, and how quickly immunity wears off, are vital to finding a way out of this pandemic."

UK Biobank Principal Investigator, Sir Rory Collins, BHF Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Oxford University

UK Biobank participants are already contributing to research into COVID-19, with data on participants tested for coronavirus now being made available with support from Public Health England.

"This is the first time we have asked the children of UK Biobank participants to come out and help us. We have always focussed on improving the health of future generations – but this is one occasion where the young can actively support their older mums and dads who, as we know, are more susceptible to this awful infection."

Professor Naomi Allen, UK Biobank Chief Scientist