Gift of Life and Rutgers Cancer Institute conduct COVID-19 study among registry members
Genetic factors that help match stem cell and marrow transplant donors with recipients may be important in fighting the novel coronavirus
Gift of Life Marrow Registry is partnering with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Root to conduct research into the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
One of the most urgently studied questions about the coronavirus pandemic is why this virus causes severe respiratory and cardiovascular distress in some people, while others have no symptoms. Finding the key to this question may help unlock treatments that will save thousands of lives – and Gift of Life’s registered donors can help.
Researchers want to understand how the genetic factors which create the human immune system play into this wide variation in levels of illness. These immune system factors, the Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA), are the same ones used by Gift of Life to determine matches between volunteer stem cell/bone marrow transplant donors and the blood cancer patients whose lives they save.
“Every volunteer donor is already HLA-typed, presenting a tremendous opportunity to drive broader science through the prism of these immune-related genes,” said Gift of Life’s Founder and CEO Jay Feinberg. “We’re excited to help the world understand how our immune systems may shape the pandemic.”
Gift of Life’s registry has nearly 375,000 donors who are now an important resource in determining the role of HLA in the fight against the coronavirus. This month, we are sending a survey to every donor in Gift of Life’s registry to ask if they have experienced symptoms of coronavirus and were diagnosed or treated, and if so, what treatment they received.
Participants can also opt into short monthly surveys for the coming year, even if they have never had COVID-19. The researchers will study their de-identified data, to better understand how tissue match genes and other factors may figure in COVID-19 risks and outcomes.
“We hope to learn whether immune-vital tissue match genes such as HLA help explain why some of us avoid COVID-19, while others get severe symptoms or need particular treatments,” said the study’s principal investigator Jeffrey Rosenfeld, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “Adding such key data to the fight against COVID-19, we can help solve the mystery of why it affects different people so differently.”
This information will provide key data to help scientists understand how the immune system responds to the virus.
“The study aims to learn whether immune-vital tissue match genes, may help explain why some people avoid COVID-19, while others get severe symptoms or need particular treatments,” said the study’s principal investigator Jeffrey Rosenfeld, Ph.D., manager of the Biomedical Informatics Shared Resource at Rutgers Cancer Institute and assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “We’re excited to add key data to the fight against COVID-19, to help clinicians better understand how the human immune system responds to the virus.”
Root's founder, geneticist Nathaniel Pearson, Ph.D., noted that “because transplant registries read HLA genes better than consumer DNA tests do, a study like this can best reveal how these diverse, immune-vital genes may shape COVID-19. Gift of Life members, who have long saved lives via transplants, now show us how everyday people can help the world beat a pandemic too.”
If you are already a member of the Gift of Life Marrow Registry (i.e., you completed both your swab kit and health history questionnaire) and would like to participate in the COVID survey, click here.
About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute, along with its partner RWJBarnabas Health, offers the most advanced cancer treatment options including bone marrow transplantation, proton therapy, CAR T-cell therapy and complex robotic surgery. Along with clinical trials and novel therapeutics such as precision medicine and immunotherapy – many of which are not widely available – patients have access to these cutting-edge therapies at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital in Newark, as well as through RWJBarnabas Health facilities.
Along with world-class treatment, which is often fueled by on-site research conducted in Rutgers Cancer Institute laboratories, patients and their families also can seek cancer preventative services and education resources throughout the Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health footprint statewide.
Root (rootdeep.com) works to grow, diversify, and engage the ranks of blood and marrow volunteers — earth's biggest group of living, contactable DNA data owners — to save patients in need, honor their good will with good insights, and empower them to spark broader health science discoveries with researchers.