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. 

TwinsUK to start COVID-19 research

20th March 2020

At TwinsUK we are making urgent preparations to set up a study to test and track twins for COVID-19 symptoms, caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The health data we have already collected and our committed participants means we are in a unique position to research this condition and join in the fight against COVID-19.

This study will be funded by King’s College London, charity CDRF, tech company Zoe Global Ltd and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre, National Institute of Health Research.

We will be working in collaboration with a number of other research teams and organisations, including tech company ZOE Global Ltd, who are rapidly building an app that will enable us to track coronavirus symptoms in our twins, and King’s College London Professor Michael Malim’s group. We will also consult with the TwinsUK Volunteer Advisory Panel throughout.

TwinsUK statement on coronavirus (COVID-19)

13th March 2020

Dear TwinsUK members, 

The government has announced that the country will be moving to the “delay” stage of the plan to fight coronavirus in the UK. 

We have taken the decision to cancel twin visits for the next month, in order to protect our twins and our staff alike. Our other research studies that require sending samples in the post will also be put on hold, and our staff will be working from home.  

Please be aware that we are unable to take calls to our usual number, so please contact us over email at twinsuk@kcl.ac.uk if you need to reach us.  

We are sending to you and your families and friends our very best wishes at this time, to keep yourself and others safe and strong. Of course, now is a good time to make plans to ensure you, your family and your friends will be ready and able to support each other should the need arise to self-isolate for an extended period of time. We know it is particularly important that older individuals have support networks in place, not forgetting that tools like Skype and Facetime can keep us all connected while minimising close contact.  

Please keep an eye on the NHS webpage for the most accurate information, and use the NHS 111 online service or call the 111 helpline if any coronavirus symptoms you experience worsen and you need additional support 

All our best, 

The TwinsUK Team 

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