COVID operations at one year
Research in the time of COVID
How the NIHR BioResource brought its strength to bear on COVID
On 17 March 2020, as the UK moved towards its first lockdown in response to COVID (SARS-CoV-2), the NIHR BioResource announced it would cease recruiting to its panels of participants who volunteer to support research into human disease.
At this time some staff were loaned to help with the COVID pandemic within their local hospitals and the rest worked from home.
The BioResource team and its partners examined how their resources could also be brought to bear on the emerging COVID pandemic.
“We could see that there was a growing national need to counter COVID and our team looked at how we might use our experience working with participants and sample processing to support UK efforts,” says Dr Nathalie Kingston, Director of the NIHR BioResource.
“Coordinating with other government bodies, we developed a series of initiatives designed to better understand COVID and working towards bringing the virus under control.”
By 22 April, the BioResource had established a programme to allow people tested in hospital for COVID to participate in research by providing biological samples and answering questions about their lifestyle and mental health.
The BioResource has a decade of experience in recruiting participants, gaining their informed consent and processing DNA samples for further health research.
“We turned our entire process over to COVID work and enormously expanded our capacity,” says Dr Kathy Stirrups, Head of Sample Management at the BioResource.
“The effort made by our teams and collaborating labs has been phenomenal: our thanks are due to them.”
The BioResource has contributed to major projects, including:
- a study determining infection rates among clinical staff;
- sequencing human genomes to explore genetic susceptibility to COVID;
- assessment of effects of COVID on mental, physical and neurological health;
- a study of brain complications during COVID infection;
- analysis of the strength of patient immune response for severity of COVID;
- a study on sensitivity of SARS-CoV-21.1.7 to mRNA vaccine-elicited antibodies
For well over 10 years the NIHR BioResource has recruited participant cohorts in rare diseases, common diseases and healthy populations.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, NIHR BioResource has recruited over 6,000 people who tested positive for COVID to a new, COVID BioResource cohort. They included people with mild disease, those who were asymptomatic and patients who needed hospitalisation. This new participant community has underpinned the BioResource COVID work.
“Although we have some way to go, we have hope of improved prospects,” says Dr Kingston.
“However, along the way, many of us have lost family or friends to this novel virus. Worldwide, this has been a torrid experience and the virus continues to take too large a toll.
“I am extremely grateful to our team who, one year on, continue to help battle COVID infection, improve future treatment and, importantly, begin to return to our work to improve outcomes for other diseases.”