Usher Institute

New study to identify highest risk factors for COVID-19

A study aiming to recruit at least 12,000 people, aged 16 or over, from across the UK has launched.

Scientists are calling on the public to sign up to a new study which will help identify who is most at risk of contracting COVID-19 and why some people become more ill than others with the disease.

Diverse volunteers

The study aims to recruit as diverse a group of volunteers as possible, including those who have already had proven or suspected COVID-19 and those who have not. The team also want to include a mixture of people both with and without underlying conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and high blood pressure.

A study of this size, across all four nations of the UK, will enable us to gain significant insights into multiple risk factors associated with COVID-19, helping us understand why particular groups are more susceptible. We hope a wide variety of people will volunteer to take part in the study from across Scotland and the UK, to enable the role of different backgrounds and varying medical histories in the effects of COVID-19 to be fully explored. The study will be set up to enable future fast-tracked trials to test treatments that will, we hope, reduce the risk of serious outcomes and death.

Professor Aziz SheikhDirector of the Usher Institute, Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research and COVIDENCE UK Study Lead for Scotland

The team hope the data they gather will help to explain why certain people appear to be at greater risk, including why the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 include a high proportion of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Online questionnaire, and monthly updates

Recruits are asked to sign up online and fill in a detailed initial questionnaire, covering their medical history, lifestyle and behaviour in terms of social distancing, hand-washing etc. Simple monthly updates will then track any new symptoms. The study will also automatically draw on patients’ NHS records to include information on test results and hospitalisations.

How fast the team can analyse this information to help protect those most at risk will depend on how quickly they can recruit the numbers required.

If we can reach our 12,000 target, particularly if a significant proportion of participants have already had a positive test for COVID-19, then we should be able to get some early results in the next few weeks. We also hope to understand why the severity of the disease differs so much across individuals, with some having no symptoms to otherwise healthy young people – albeit in small numbers – dying from the disease.”

Professor Adrian MartineauProfessor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at Queen Mary University of London, and COVIDENCE UK Study Lead

Additional focus on mental health

The team also aim to see how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting people’s mental well-being – and vice versa.

Our mental health, particularly depression and anxiety, is closely entwined with our physical health and can play a role in how well we fight an illness or respond to treatment. That’s why we want to measure mental as well as physical well-being, to see if that can help predict the likelihood of an adverse outcome.

Professor Gerome BreenKing's College London

The study, which will run for up to five years, will also create a platform to fast-track future trials of preventative treatments, such as dietary supplements, to see if they help to protect against COVID-19. Recruits will be asked if they are willing to be approached to take part in future trials when they sign up to be involved.

The COVIDENCE UK study launched on 1 May 2020. King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Edinburgh, Queen’s University Belfast and Swansea University are all partners in the research, which is funded by the Barts Charity.

Related links

COVIDENCE UK study website

Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research