My DNA and COVID-19: What's My Risk?
Written by Dr. Brandon Colby, MD, a medical expert specializing in personalized preventive medicine and clinical genomics.
Your DNA and COVID-19
The last year has transformed our lives into a world of unknowns. There’s tremendous uncertainty, which sows fear and anxiety.
Much of the uncertainty exists around the incredibly wide range of impact that COVID-19 can have: one person with COVID-19 can have mild symptoms while another person that’s the same age can have a serious, life-threatening infection that requires hospitalization.
Our team at Sequencing.com watched with the rest of the world as an outbreak turned into an epidemic and then quickly evolved into our current pandemic. As the magnitude of the growing pandemic became evident, we set out to find a way to help.
We focused on what Sequencing.com does best: translating genetic research into clear solutions for better health.
Digging into all available coronavirus-related genetic research became our top priority. We applied our expertise at creating genetic analysis for common ailments, such as heart disease and cancer, to the coronavirus.
What we discovered was astonishing. There exists a wide range of published, peer-reviewed genetic research that associates specific genetic variants with either susceptibility to coronavirus infection or risk of a coronavirus infection progressing to a severe illness.
Based on my own expertise as a practicing physician-geneticist, it was clear that making this information accessible to the world would empower the everyday person to better understand their personal risk and optimal preventive actions to take in regards to coronavirus and COVID-19.
Our team of medical geneticists, bioinformatics experts, and software developers worked tirelessly to develop actionable, clear DNA analysis for coronavirus risk. The result was the free Coronavirus DNA Health Report.
The assessment helps answer many of the questions we all have:
- Am I likely to become infected?
- If I get COVID-19, is my life at risk?
- How can I best protect myself and my family?
The Science Behind Genetic Assessment of Coronavirus Risk
The genetic analysis used by the Coronavirus DNA Health Report is based on more than 20 peer-reviewed, published genetic association studies. These studies were performed by scientists throughout the world. We include all of these as references within the report.
Let’s start at the beginning: 2003. This is when the initial coronavirus outbreak occurred that many of us still remember. The current coronavirus strain, new coronavirus 2019-nCoV, also has another official name: SARS-CoV-2. The strain that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003 is SARS-CoV-1. The names are so similar because both coronavirus strains share 86% of the same genome.
Our initial review of the scientific literature identified several important studies on the molecular mechanisms used by the current coronavirus strain, which we’ll refer to as CoV-2, to infect a human cell. For example, the virus binds to a specific binding site of the ACE2 receptor, which is found in abundance in cells of the lungs and mouth.
A genetic research study of CoV-2 found that genetic variants (also known as ‘polymorphisms’ or ‘mutations’) within the ACE2 gene may impact the virus’ ability to infect a person. Changes in this gene may be one of the reasons why the virus more easily infects some people while others can be exposed in a similar way but not become infected.
While scientific studies on CoV-2 are now being rushed to publication, the total number of studies of CoV-2 is still relatively small compared to the 16+ years of studies that have been published on CoV-1.
Fortunately, because the two strains (CoV-1 and CoV-2) are so similar, we curated all available genetic studies on CoV-1 and CoV-2 and considered them in aggregate. We then eliminated any genetic association that failed a follow-up validation study and what remained was more than 20 genetic association studies covering 15 genes.
These studies identified genetic variants that had a significant impact on either coronavirus susceptibility (how the virus initially infects human cells) or severity (how the body responds to the infection).
While much of the research is preliminary, due to the urgency of the current pandemic we felt providing access to some existing data was critical during these dire times. This information can be incredibly useful if presented in a clear, actionable report.
We used the studies to create genetic analysis for two main risks associated with coronavirus:
- Susceptibility to infection
- Risk of infection turning into a severe, potentially life-threatening illness
The analysis can process genetic data from almost any DNA test including genotyping microarrays used by Sequencing.com, 23andMe, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, and FamilyTreeDNA as well as genome sequencing used by Sequencing.com, Dante Labs, and Nebula Genomics.
Using Your DNA To Outsmart COVID-19
The true value of genetic testing and analysis is when it provides clear solutions for better health. After creating the genetic analysis for coronavirus risk, we next focused on how this information can be conveyed in a straightforward, actionable report.
Our goal for the Coronavirus DNA Health Report was to enable a person to outsmart the coronavirus.
But what does it really mean to be able to outsmart the coronavirus?
We can outsmart a virus by helping to identify those individuals who are at the highest risk of an infection turning life-threatening so that they can take extra precautions to avoid exposure.
While it is true that there are general health recommendations we now all need to follow, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, some of us may need to take even more aggressive precautions.
Imagine if you knew that if your child were infected with COVID-19, there was a significantly increased chance that she would end up in the intensive care unit fighting for her life. What would you do differently?
For example, would you be so willing to take her with you to go shopping for groceries or would you keep her at home? And when someone returned back to your household after being outside, would you be more inclined to immediately wash that person’s clothes and have them take a shower?
And if you noticed your child had any symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or even just diarrhea, would you wait to notify her pediatrician or would you be much more inclined to reach out and alert her doctor at the very first symptom?
Even small behavioral changes, such as deciding not to leave the house or to notify a doctor sooner, can have a huge impact on our health. And this is how we can outsmart the coronavirus.
The free Coronavirus DNA Health Report provides much-needed insight into personal risks and guidance for outsmarting the coronavirus.
World War C
We’re in the midst of a pandemic, a third world war that isn’t a battle against each other. Instead, the world is united in fighting a single, common enemy: the coronavirus.
Our Coronavirus DNA Health Report allows each of us to optimize our personal defenses against the coronavirus. In a time where information has been so limited, the report provides much needed insight by leveraging your DNA to help better protect you and your loved ones.
About The Author
Dr. Brandon Colby MD is a US physician specializing in the personalized prevention of disease through the use of genomic technologies. He’s an expert in DNA testing, genetic analysis, and precision medicine. Dr. Colby is also the Founder of Sequencing.com and the author of Outsmart Your Genes.
Dr. Colby has performed extensive genetic research into the ways that the coronavirus infects a person and causes illness. You can read more about Dr. Colby’s COVID-19-related research in his article Your DNA and Coronavirus: How To Know If You’re At Risk.
Dr. Colby holds an MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and a degree in Genetics with Honors from the University of Michigan. He is an Affiliate Specialist of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), an Associate of the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM), and a member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC).