This week Ancestry released results of a survey we commissioned to understand how consumers view their health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, because of the pandemic, the survey found that 45% of parents are concerned about protecting their family’s health, and 42% of parents worry about the lasting implications of the virus on their family’s health.
Perhaps more than any time in recent memory, people are honing in on the importance of taking proactive actions to protect their health and their family’s health. This applies to not only concerns specific to COVID-19 but also other health issues, such as genetic risks. Almost half of all Americans — and nearly 60 percent of parents — said the pandemic has increased their interest in understanding their possible genetic health risks. Top reasons include:
- Preparing for future potential health issues
- Catching health issues early on
- Making lifestyle changes now that could reduce risk factors for health conditions for which they may be susceptible
As a physician and father, I understand these perspectives. Especially during these unprecedented times, many of us have certainly spent time wondering about how the “unknown” will impact our family’s health. The pandemic has underscored what we already knew: we want to protect our family. It brings me a measure of comfort that Ancestry is working to use science and technology to improve lives, and is working to be a valuable scientific partner in healthcare’s worldwide effort to urgently find new ways to identify and prevent diseases.
As part of this focus, AncestryHealth® launched last year to help customers proactively understand and potentially address their individual health risks before disease strikes. Later this year, AncestryHealth will be powered by Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), an advanced testing technology that provides a more comprehensive analysis of inherited health risks than widely available to consumers through array-based genetic testing. As science advances our ability to identify genetic risks for a wide range of illnesses, this knowledge can help parents take better care of themselves and their family.
Advancing health through science is a two-way street, and Ancestry takes pride in fulfilling our responsibility as part of the global scientific community. A few months ago, with the launch of Ancestry’s COVID-19 research study, we invited our members to join efforts to understand and combat COVID-19. Thanks to 600,000 volunteer participants, Ancestry’s study is shedding new light on COVID-19. Based on early analysis of data, Ancestry scientists preliminarily identified a DNA region that could help explain why the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 seems to have a higher impact on men than women. Furthermore, analysis of self-reported study data has shown that healthcare workers with direct exposure had six-fold higher odds of COVID-19 infection than the overall survey population, while people living with someone with COVID-19 were at 121 times higher odds of COVID-19 than the overall survey population. And we continue to perform research on the data to generate other insights to help in the fight against COVID-19.
But we know that the best insights will come not just from Ancestry, but from the collective expertise of scientists from around the world. To that end, we are committed to working with qualified external researchers working to develop treatments, as well as vaccines or other preventative measures, for COVID-19. Any data shared with such researchers will be de-identified, so will not include personally identifying information such as name, email, or address.
- Ancestry-approved researchers will be able to access de-identified data via the European Genome-Phenome Archive (EGA), an international data archive service that facilitates the sharing of data among scientific researchers.
- As a member of the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, we are sharing summary statistics — containing no personally identifiable information — with qualified researchers and organizations working to develop treatments or vaccines. Members of the initiative, which is based on the principle of collaboration without personal gain or ownership of results, may also access the de-identified data hosted at EGA when it becomes available.
- The Regeneron Genetics Center (RGC), a world-leading organization studying genetic causes of and interventions for disease, will enhance their COVID-19 research efforts by accessing de-identified data from the study to accelerate understanding of the human genetic determinants of COVID-19 susceptibility, severity and outcomes. The RGC will make summary results derived from their research available to the global scientific community via their public research portal and through scientific publications, which will also include similar de-identified data from other large studies from around the world.
- Several academic research institutes have requested to use the de-identified data generated by the study to advance the understanding of aspects of COVID-19.
Looking beyond COVID-19, as genomic science rapidly evolves, the ability to identify health risks will continue to expand and improve. As a partner to the healthcare ecosystem and global scientific community, we believe Ancestry can help find new ways to address many of the health concerns that keep us up at night. And while it’s indisputable that we worry more about our family’s health these days, the increased attention to our health — and acceleration of science, research and prevention — make me optimistic for the future.
Ron Park, MD
EVP of Health and DNA