(Courtesy of Gift of Life) Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) – diverse genetic markers on our cells that help match patients and donors for bone marrow transplant – are the focus of a new study led by the Gift of Life Marrow Registry.
The study, in collaboration with researchers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the genetic crowd-science portal Root, aims to help answer a key question: Why do some people get COVID-19 or particular symptoms while others avoid them? More than 350,000 donors in Gift of Life’s registry have been invited to participate, helping researchers answer this important question.
“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.”
“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.”
Root’s founder, geneticist Nathaniel Pearson, PhD, 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.”
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.
The new study furthers Gift of Life’s efforts to help people and communities in need during the pandemic. The organization has increased capacity at the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Gift of Life–Be the Match Collection Center to become a non-hospital based go-to for stem cell donations and has contributed 10,000 specialized swabs to Baptist Health South Florida via Boca Raton Regional Hospital to be used for COVID-19 testing.