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UK Biobank to gather SARS-CoV-2 infection data on its 500,000 participants

UK Biobank to gather SARS-CoV-2 infection data on its 500,000 participants, enabling research into the possible long-term health impacts of the virus

Testing to also identify participants for UK Biobank’s SARS-CoV-2 repeat imaging study, which will help scientists to understand how the virus affects internal organs.

London, 16 March 2021 – UK Biobank, the large-scale biomedical database and research resource, announces today the launch of a study that will enable scientists to monitor the long-term health effects of COVID-19, sometimes known as “Long COVID”.

In the largest study of its kind, all half million UK Biobank participants will be invited to receive a self-test kit to find out if they have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Data from confirmatory tests that the antibodies are due to past infection (rather than vaccination) will be added to UK Biobank’s biomedical database and made available to the scientific research community. This unique dataset, combined with the genetic and lifestyle information already collected by UK Biobank and regular updates of health information, will allow researchers and scientists to study the potential long-term impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The home antibody test kits have been provided by the Department of Health and Social Care. UK Biobank will use Amazon’s logistics network to distribute these kits to participants across the UK. Amazon is waiving fees and providing this service free of charge.

Testing the entire UK Biobank cohort will also identify suitable candidates for UK Biobank’s SARS-CoV-2 repeat imaging study. Before the pandemic, 50,000 participants attended UK Biobank’s imaging assessment centres where they each had detailed imaging of their brain, heart, body and arteries. Up to 1,500 participants identified by the antibody tests as having been infected with SARS-CoV-2 and 1,500 others who have not been infected will be scanned for a second time. This study will enable scientists to understand how SARS-CoV-2 affects internal organs, helping to understand possible long-term health effects of the virus. 

"Much is known about the short-term effects of SARS-CoV-2, but very little is known about its longer-term health effects. The addition of information on which participants in UK Biobank have been infected will provide researchers across the world with a unique data set to assess any long-term health impacts of the virus. We are grateful to DHSC and Amazon for supporting this important study."

Prof. Naomi Allen, Chief Scientist of UK Biobank

"UK Biobank has been critical to enabling better understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, providing a host of invaluable insights. This latest study will reveal how past infection with SARS-CoV-2, which is often asymptomatic, and vaccination influence future susceptibility to infection and the health implications of those infections. It is only through the unique people and structure of UK Biobank – in particular, the 500,000 volunteer participants from across the UK – that these critical questions can be answered, questions that are so important for the UK and around the world."

Sir Jeremy Farrar OBE FMedSci FRS, Director of Wellcome

"We believe our role serving customers and the community during this time is a critical one. We are proud to be putting our logistics network and expertise in service of UK Biobank and we hope this study will help advance research into the impact of COVID-19 on long-term health."

John Boumphrey, UK Country Manager at Amazon

With its extensive biomedical database, UK Biobank has been uniquely positioned to carry out vital research into the COVID-19 pandemic. The study announced today is UK Biobank’s latest contribution to enabling greater understanding of SARS-CoV-2, having recently announced the results of its antibody study, which found that most people infected by SARS-CoV-2 retain antibodies for at least 6 months post-infection.

More information about the study can be found here.