King’s College London Pioneers Symptom Reporting App to Slow Spread of COVID-19

24th March 2020

King’s College London is launching a COVID-19 symptom tracking app in the UK, allowing anyone to take 1 minute to self-report daily. Around 5,000 twins and their families across the UK have been recruited from the TwinsUK cohort study to trial the app, which tracks in real time how the disease progresses. The aim is to help slow the outbreak by helping researchers identify:

  • How fast the virus is spreading in your area 
  • High-risk areas in the UK
  • Who is most at risk, by better understanding symptoms linked to underlying health conditions

Twins using the app will record information about their health on a daily basis, including temperature, tiredness and symptoms such as coughing, breathing problems or headaches. 

The aim is to send participants COVID-19 home testing kits to better understand which symptoms truly correspond to coronavirus infection. This is an urgent clinical issue given the current limits on testing.

The app will be also available to the general public without the home testing component of the study. It can be downloaded for free from covid.joinzoe.com

Comparing genetically identical twins with non-identical twins, who are as related as regular siblings, enables researchers to separate the effects of genes from environmental factors such as diet, lifestyle, previous illnesses and infections, and the microbes within the gut (microbiome).

Samples taken from the twin group will be used to generate a biobank for use in future research projects investigating infection and immune responses.

The data from the study will reveal important information about the symptoms and progress of COVID-19 infection in different people, and why some go on to develop more severe or fatal disease while others have only mild symptoms. 

The study will support the urgent clinical need to distinguish mild coronavirus symptoms from seasonal coughs and colds, which may be leading people to unnecessarily self-isolate when they aren’t infected or inadvertently go out and spread the disease when they are.

Led by Professor Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, TwinsUK is a scientific study of 15,000 identical and non-identical twins, which has been running for nearly three decades. At least 5,000 members of the existing twin cohort and their families are expected to sign up for this new COVID-19 sub-study. 

This unique twin group has been studied in unprecedented detail over many years, with most already having taken part in comprehensive genetic analysis and immune profiling, as well as detailed gut microbiome profiling. 

The free monitoring app has been developed as a partnership between researchers at King’s College London and health data science company ZOE – itself a spin-out from King’s College London – and will also be widely available to health staff and the general public who wish to contribute to this vital research. It will also be used by other large population studies in the UK and US.

Professor Spector says,

“These are worrying times for everyone. Our twins are a fantastically committed enthusiastic health research participants who have already been studied in unprecedented detail, putting us in a unique position to provide vital answers to support the global fight against COVID-19. The more people who use the app, the better the real-time data we have to combat the crisis in this country.” 

The TwinsUK COVID-19 research study is funded by King’s College London, ZOE Global Ltd, the CDRF charity, and the National Institute of Health Research Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre. Any data gathered from the app and study will be used strictly for public health or academic research and will not be used commercially or sold. 

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