As a physician, it’s the moments of hope — when medicine finds a way to address a pressing human need — that matter the most. I’ve had a professional front seat to the fusion of DNA and medicine over the past 25 years and have experienced many meaningful moments where advances in science have prevented diseases and improved the quality of lives. We are living through one of those moments now.
Beyond continents and across scientific disciplines, the global health and scientific communities have come together to conquer COVID-19 at a powerful pace. We never imagined when we began offering DNA to customers 10 years ago — and, most recently, AncestryHealth® for those interested in learning more about their health risks — that these communities would one day play an important role at a time so crucial to humanity. Ancestry is honored and humbled to do our part in supporting the global research community by activating the world’s largest consumer DNA community to help better understand COVID-19.
Ancestry’s COVID-19 Study was launched to look for genetic clues on how individuals respond to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Ancestry is grateful to the nearly 600,000 people who have already volunteered to participate in the study through our Personal Discoveries Project, and we encourage our community to continue its engagement and support.
Though we are still in the very early stages of looking at the data, some early observations from our internal team, led by Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Catherine Ball, include:
Although our study is based on data from Ancestry DNA customers who volunteered to participate (e.g., this is an observational study), it still does represent a unique view of the US population that is concerned about COVID-19, including people who have had and have not had COVID-19. Although people continue to volunteer for the study, the basic characteristics of the study population so far are:
- 507,000 people participated in the survey between April 22-May 28
- Participants were from all 50 states in the US
- Average age was 53.9
- Gender was 67.5% female, 32.1% male, 0.35% other
- 94% of participants fully completed the survey, including pre-existing conditions/comorbidities, other risk factors, medications, and symptomology
Furthermore, in looking at study participants who reported COVID-19 exposure or risk, we found that:
- 18.5% of study participants reported that they had either experienced flu-like symptoms or were tested for COVID-19
- 12% of study participants reported a known exposure to COVID-19
- For those who were tested, the likelihood of a positive result was 13.4%
- >3700 participants reported they had received a confirmed COVID-19 positive test. In this cohort, we found that their characteristics are similar to those seen in a CDC database of those who tested positive from hospitals and clinics:
- The median age was 49 (48 with CDC)
- Self-reported gender was 64.64% female, 35.1% male, 0.27% other (51% female with CDC)
- 10.0% have been in the hospital (14% with CDC)
- 4.5% have been in the ICU (11% with CDC)
- Finally, although in-depth research is now in progress, an initial look at settings that are associated with higher or lower levels of self-reported COVID-19 status shows:
- Healthcare workers with direct exposure are ~6 times more likely to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 as compared to our overall survey population
- People with a household member with COVID are ~121 times more likely to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 as compared to our overall survey population
- While additional data is needed to fully explore this observation, we believe this creates further clarity on the risks of transmission in different settings, and potentially the importance of the use of PPE (presumably more common among healthcare workers than in the home setting).
Ancestry is just one component of the global scientific community mobilized to understand and fight this pandemic. When we launched the study two months ago, we did so with the intent of helping rapidly advance global understanding of COVID-19. As part of our commitment to the volunteers from our DNA network who consented to participate in Ancestry’s COVID-19 study, we will be sharing de-identified data with qualified external researchers working to develop treatment options for COVID-19, including possible vaccines or other preventive measures.
Thank you to everyone who has and will volunteer to provide information about their personal experience with COVID-19, as well as to the dedicated scientists who are making COVID-19 discoveries that bring clarity to mysteries of this global puzzle. We look forward to keeping you updated as our collective journey to conquer COVID-19 continues. Our work is not done yet, but the power of the Ancestry and scientific communities, in collaboration together, gives us continued reason to hope.
Ron Park, MD
EVP of Health and DNA