Two researchers in a lab

Understanding and treating COVID-19

University of Liverpool researchers are collecting blood samples and clinical data from thousands of COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the UK. The research will provide answers to some of the most important questions about the course of the disease and the effects of treatment.

Largest COVID-19 study in Europe

The International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium (ISARIC4C) study is the largest of its kind undertaken in Europe. It involves a national consortium of researchers that is gathering data from more than 15,000 patients with COVID-19 admitted to 166 hospitals throughout the UK.

Professor Calum Semple at the University of Liverpool is leading the project alongside Dr Kenneth Baillie at the University of Edinburgh and Professor Peter Openshaw from Imperial College London.

Professor Semple has assembled a team of specially trained scientists and technicians who can support this research in Liverpool’s high-level Biological Safety Laboratories. The results will provide real-time information about the virus and disease which should help to control the outbreak and improve treatment for patients.

The project, which includes co-investigators from Public Health England and six UK universities, aims to discover who in the population is at highest risk of severe illness, what the coronavirus does, what is different between people who have mild and severe disease and why the immune system appears to help some people but harms others. It will also monitor the effects of trial drugs used in patients and establish how long people are infectious.

Significant factors reducing chance of survival

One of the project’s most significant findings so far is that being male or obese reduces chance of survival from COVID-19.

The researchers have found that after adjusting for other medical problems such as lung, heart and kidney disease (factors already known to cause poor outcomes), being male or obese is a significant factor associated with death in UK hospitals. This feature has not been seen in China, where it is thought that fewer people are obese.

Although the reasons for why obese people are suffering such severe COVID-19 and dying more than other groups are not clear, the researchers believe it could be because they have reduced lung function and possibly more inflammation in adipose tissue. This is the fatty tissue under the skin and around internal organs, which might contribute to an enhanced ‘cytokine storm’ – a potentially life-threatening over-reaction of the body’s immune reaction which causes harm.

Professor Semple, said: “This coronavirus pandemic is the greatest pathogenic threat to humanity for over 100 years. Not since 1918 have we seen such an impact on global society, but there is hope because for the first time, the world’s scientific community is cooperating to combat this disease.”

The project is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC UK) and Research Councils UK (UKRI).

We must do everything humanly possible to understand this disease, so that we are better prepared for the next wave of this pandemic.

Professor Calum Semple
Dr Shona Moore working in the lab

Working in our outbreak lab during the COVID-19 pandemic

Shona, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Clinical infection, Microbiology and Immunology, has led the expansion of the University's outbreak lab which processes thousands of COVID-19 positive samples each week. Read her blog to find out what it's been like scaling up operations and the challenges the team have overcome during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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