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UK Biobank Launches COVID-19 Immunity Study

NEW YORK – The UK Biobank said on Sunday that it is launching a large-scale long-term study to track the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the general population and to understand levels of immunity and the role of genetics.

The study is led by the UK Biobank, supported by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and was developed by the Wellcome Trust. It aims to enroll 20,000 existing Biobank participants, as well as their adult children and grandchildren, from England, Scotland, and Wales.

The plan is to conduct antibody tests to determine what proportion of the population has already been infected, how long immunity lasts, and why the virus affects different people in different ways.

Participants will be asked to provide a blood sample each month for at least six months, using a finger-prick device, and to complete a questionnaire about symptoms they may have experienced. The de-identified samples will be processed at the UK Biobank and sent to researchers at the University of Oxford for antibody testing. First results from the study are expected to be available in early June but participants will not receive their individual results.

Researchers hope to understand differences in infection response by coupling the antibody data with existing genetic and lifestyle data and regular updates of health outcomes from UK Biobank participants.

"This UK Biobank study will build our understanding of the rate of COVID-19 infection in the general population and, importantly, it will add to our knowledge about the risk factors that mean the virus can affect individuals differently," said Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock in a statement.

The new study will complement data from two existing coronavirus surveillance studies in the UK, conducted by the Office for National Statistics and Imperial College, respectively.