A team of UMCG scientists, assisted by a small group of Lifelines participants, hopes to gain a better understanding of factors that determine the severity of the course of coronavirus infection. Around 130 Lifelines participants who reported that they have tested positive for the coronavirus have therefore been invited to donate additional blood during their tests.
One of the standard questions asked during the Lifelines Coronavirus survey is whether a participant has tested positive for the virus. This is then followed by a series of in-depth questions, which the participants have been asked on a weekly or fortnightly basis since March. In addition to the information collected via these questionnaires, the team, consisting of Debbie van Baarle and Anke Huckriede (Department of Medical Microbiology) and Lude Franke (Department of Genetics), will now also use blood samples to gain insights into the development of resistance to the virus in order to better predict who is at a higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19. Using this data, the scientists will be able to study which people make antibodies, the extent to which they make these antibodies and how long those antibodies remain in the body. It will also be possible to assess whether this has an impact on their health.
Role of genetics
This northern coronavirus research project previously showed that genetic factors play a role in the extent to which someone becomes ill from the virus. Franke: ‘The picture that is now emerging suggests that the immune systems of people who are seriously ill due to the coronavirus are set up differently. This is partly hereditary.’ Other factors, such as previous exposure to coronaviruses already in circulation, may also play a role in the course of infection. Lifelines’ unique data and blood samples can contribute towards our understanding of these systems.
The research team is exploring the possibility of studying the immune systems of a larger group of Lifelines participants. Franke: ‘We know a huge amount about the health, lifestyles and family relationships, for example, of all our Lifeline participants, dating back over 15 years. This collection of health data is of great value for scientific research into the coronavirus.’
Long-term coronavirus study
The Lifelines Coronavirus study is a joint initiative of the UMCG, the University of Groningen, the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health and the Lifelines study. It was partly made possible by the University of the North and is supported by the Ubbo Emmius Fund and NDC Media. Anyone who wants to make a financial contribution to this and other important coronavirus research can donate to the Crowdfunding tegen Corona initiative.