Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute, UCL and UCLH have embarked on a new study to understand more about how and why people are vulnerable to infection with SARS-CoV-2.
The Legacy Study will utilise a unique bank of over 400,000 coronavirus samples at the Crick, gathered as part of the institute’s testing partnership with many north London healthcare facilities, including UCLH.
Scientists and clinicians will aim to understand the coronavirus and how it behaves in individuals - how the virus is transmitted between people, how later stages of the disease develop and how the body’s immune system attempts to control the virus.
Since April 2020, the Crick has been testing healthcare workers for COVID-19, processing thousands of samples a week and helping protect 10 hospitals, many community and ambulance services, and 150 care homes. The Crick has also been testing its own staff regularly, to maintain a safe working environment for essential research.
With informed consent, samples will be matched with individuals to establish how factors like age, sex, ethnicity, and past and current medical histories, impact the risk of infection. Participants will also be invited to give regular swab and blood samples over two years, to better understand how emerging variants and vaccination affect risk of infection and how the body responds.
Charles Swanton, Group Leader at the Crick and UCL and Consultant Oncologist at UCLH, and Sonia Gandhi, Crick Group Leader and Consultant Neurologist at UCLH are leading the study. They said: “While we hope for a quick end to this pandemic, this coronavirus will be with us in some way for a long time. Before we can find new ways of detecting and treating the virus, we need to understand more about why people are vulnerable. And if they become infected, how the disease develops, how long it takes to recover and whether there are any future health consequences.”
The study has a unique focus on transmission to and vulnerability of healthcare workers, who have been at the frontline battling waves of infection.
Professor Bryan Williams, Director of Research at UCLH and Director of the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, said: “Healthcare workers have had arguably the highest level of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 of anyone. By following frontline workers over the next two years, we hope to inform policies on safety in healthcare settings and ensure that measures like vaccination are providing the necessary level of protection.”
The Crick is one of only a few places in the UK with Category 4 containment facilities to safely study highly infectious samples. As researchers at the institute track the emergence and spread of new variants, the Legacy group will look to understand how the genetics of the virus and of the infected individual affect the severity of symptoms.
And as more people are vaccinated across the UK, they will investigate changes in the immune system, and uncover possible reasons for re-infection in participants who are vaccinated.
Emma Wall, UCLH infectious diseases consultant and Senior Clinical Research Fellow for the study, said: “Our study is designed to examine many aspects of coronavirus transmission and infection. We aim to remain flexible to changes in the pandemic, from different vaccines to variants, arming researchers with the most up-to-date evidence.”