Patients at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital are helping with a ground-breaking study researching the genomes of people who become critically ill with Covid-19.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s GenOMICC project (Genetics Of Mortality In Critical Care) are working together with over 170 NHS hospitals including the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The study aims to sequence the genomes of 20,000 people who are severely ill with COVID-19. The data collected by staff at the NNUH and others will be compared to that from a further 15,000 Covid-19 patients who experienced only mild symptoms.

Credit: PA

The idea is to find out why some patients experience a mild infection, others require intensive care and why for some it is fatal. By discovering why some people are predisposed to developing life-threatening symptoms, the initiative will provide a better insight into the virus, as well as possible human factors that influence the effects of the disease.

All Covid-19 positive patients who are being treated on the Critical Care Complex at NNUH are eligible for enrolment into the study. The patient or their family are asked to consent to a DNA blood test, this test is looking to identify, sequence and analyse specific genes that control the processes that lead to life-threatening illness.

Credit: PA

This trial will hopefully identify the gene that makes some patients more susceptible than others and people want to help with this. Even though relatives are aware that this study will not directly benefit their loved ones at this very difficult time, we have had an incredibly positive response. They are keen to help find what causes some people to become more ill than others. They want to help find the gene.

Georgina Randell, NNUH

“Our genes play a role in determining who becomes desperately sick with infections like COVID-19. Understanding these genes will help us to choose treatments for clinical trials. The GenOMICC study has been running since 2016, and has been investigating genetic factors that impact how patients fare in response to a number of severe illnesses. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, and with the tremendous support of the UK critical care community, the study has expanded and accelerated enormously, and we are now recruiting in over 170 ICUs across the country. I am delighted to be working with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to deliver this important work.

Dr Kenneth Baillie, Chief Investigator on the GenOMICC study
University of Essex Credit: ITV News Anglia

Meanwhile the use of lung ultrasound to help care for patients with Covid-19 has been highlighted in a review involving University of Essex academics.

Lung damage is one of the most serious problems for patients with severe symptoms of the virus.

Since its publication, the review has received enormous worldwide attention.

Using ultrasound to monitor the lung is now used in hospitals across the world. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Lung ultrasound plays an important part here as the standard assessment tool - the stethoscope - cannot be used with COVID-19 patients as it forms a direct connection between the patient's skin and the clinician's face. Lung ultrasound does not carry this risk and the infection control processes needed when using it are relatively straightforward.

Co-author Dr Sue Innes, from Essex’s School of Health and Social Care

As the storm clouds of the looming pandemic gathered, we very quickly collated and summarised the early evidence and guidance for use of lung ultrasound in COVID-19 patients.

Lead author Dr Mike Smith