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New research will explore why COVID-19 hits some harder than others

Tuesday, 05 May 2020

A new study will examine why some people who contract COVID-19 have symptoms and others don’t, and will question why, out of those who become symptomatic, not all become seriously ill.

COVID-19 is a global healthcare crisis and while there are a large number of deaths recorded, it is clear that not every person who contracts COVID-19 reacts in the same way.

New research, led by experts from the University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals, will look to answer a number of important questions around how COVID-19 affects different people.

This information could be used to help to prevent infection among key workers in the NHS.

Healthcare workers are at higher risk of being infected by COVID-19 than the general population because of their contact with patients and the general public.

“We want to know how many of our doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals have already had the virus,” says Mr Ben Ollivere, Clinical Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant Trauma Surgeon from the School of Medicine at the University, and one of the lead researchers on the study.

“We also want to know if this is more common depending on any physical characteristics, such as age, ethnicity, presence of conditions like diabetes or hypertension, and also based on any substances in their blood (number of immune cells, levels of inflammation-related substances).”

The team will be collecting blood from healthcare workers during the pandemic. They will extract serum from samples taken at regular intervals, (every week), to test for antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19 and measure other substances in the blood.

COVID-19 testing

“This will help us understand the risk of infection among front line healthcare workers,” adds Mr Ollivere.

The team will also undertake a genotype to establish if there are any genetic characteristics that contribute to susceptibility for the disease.

So far the team have collected samples from 142 members of staff from Nottingham University Hospitals.

We will use the bloods taken the first time to measure certain genes that we think may relate to immune response to viruses. We will use the weekly draws to measure serum antibodies and markers of inflammation against the virus that causes COVID-19. We will also be asking people if they have had to self-isolate, if they have had COVID-19 symptoms, if they have had a test for the coronavirus and if they tested positive.”
Dr Ana Valdes, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at the University, and one of the study leads

The data collected will be fully anonymised so the team will be able to report how many healthcare workers have had the disease and whether this relates for example to their ethnicity or age or other clinical characteristics.

The researchers will then be able to establish which cellular pathways are important in developing treatments.

Dr Valdes says: “This is important in order for us to understand what treatments may work, and why patients become sick we need to study those who have been exposed to COVID-19 and those who have not.”

The research has been informed by experts from the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and research undertaken at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China Campus.

Deputy Head of the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, Professor Guruprasad Aithal, said: "Thanks to our liaisons with the Ningbo campus of the University of Nottingham and our mechanistic work within the NIHR BRC we have been able to generate strong hypotheses on the molecules that we should test.” 

Other researchers on the project include Professor Guruprasad Aithal, Professor of Hepatology, NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and Jayne Newham, Nottingham Tissue Bank Manager.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Benjamin Ollivere in the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham at Benjamin.Ollivere@nottingham.ac.uk  

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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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