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The possible link between genetics and coronavirus

The biotech company 23andMe is launching a massive study to see if there is a connection.

SAN ANTONIO — Scientists around the world are racing to understand coronavirus and why most people who are infected show mild to moderate symptoms – or sometimes no symptoms at all – and others develop a severe form of the disease, in some cases resulting in death. 

23andMe has provided personalized genetic reports for years. But now he biotechnology company is switching gears to help battle coronavirus with a new study, and they're looking for those with a positive diagnosis to take part. 

"Given that COVID-19 has taken a turn of turning our lives upside down so very, very quickly, at this stage we just don't know to what extent genetics plays a role in determining the severity of outcomes," said Adam Auton, the principal scientist of statistical genetics at 23andMe. 

To participate in the study, you must be over 18 years of age and live in the U.S., be willing to provide a saliva sample for DNA testing, complete an online survey, have a positive coronavirus diagnosis, and you must have been hospitalized due to coronavirus-related symptoms. The stronger your symptoms, the likelier you could play a big part in the research. 

"In order to maximize our abilities to make a discovery, we would really like to provide people with severe outcomes (the opportunity) to come into the study and participate in the study," Auton said. 

This study could even shed some light on a phenomenon known as the COVID cliff – when patients who seem to be improving suddenly get worse –and whether or not genetics play a role. Dr. Diego Maselli, the Medical Director of respiratory therapy at University Hospital told us, 

"Unfortunately, some of these patients, when this happens or this phenomenon starts to happen, then they get sicker and they end up in the ICU and sometimes on a ventilator," said Diego Maselli, the medical director of respiratory therapy at University Hospital. 

"The hope (is) that our study can help provide information that will provide some answers to those sorts of questions," Auton said. 

So far, 600,000 Americans have agreed to participate, but only 9,000 say they had COVID-19. 23andMe is looking for thousands more. 

"It's the nature of genetic studies that we really need very large numbers of people to participate," Auton said. 

If you would like more information about the study or to participate, click here

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