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Why Do Some Get COVID And Others Don't? CWRU Experts Looking For Answers

While COVID-19 research has been accelerated across the country, many questions remain about how people become infected with the virus, and why there are different immune responses.

A new Case Western Reserve University study will focus on the household contacts of an infected person, said Dr. Christopher King, who is a researcher and pathologist at CWRU.

The researchers are hoping to study why some people get infected with COVID-19 after being exposed, while others do not, he said.

“There’s not a lot of studies out there looking at that, and why, in some households, does everybody seem to get it, in other ones only some people get it, in others none get it?” King said.

Researchers will first identify people in Northeast Ohio who test positive for the virus, specifically recruiting patients tested before going in for a procedure at a hospital, or who contacted their doctor about experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and were referred to a testing site, he said

They hope to discover if participants develop antibodies, or if their bodies have a different kind of immune response, he added.

“What is it that makes some of us susceptible to infection, and some of us not? And for those of us that become infected, why do some of us go on and develop a strong immune response … and why do some of us come on and develop a severe disease?” King said.

“That may have to do with some of the very early events of exposure that make a difference," he said.

From there, researchers will study the members of a patient’s immediate household to see who gets infected – and why.

Participants will collect samples from their saliva and upper airways so that their immune response can be examined, he said. For safety reasons, much of the study will be conducted through telemedicine, and participants will self-collect many of their samples from home, he said.

Researchers will also ask the participants questions about behaviors that may have led to family members getting infected. 

Household members that do not become infected are a crucial part of the research as well, King said.

“What is it about them – what is it the nature of their behavior that prevents them from getting it. What is the nature of their immune response that prevents them from getting it? That’s really the exciting part."

Those that do become infected will be connected with resources for monitoring and treatment, he added.

If participants need to come onsite for blood testing, which could help researchers know whether a person has developed COVID-19 antibodies, researchers will utilize outdoor research pods and personal protective equipment already set up at University Hospitals, King said.

This study is being funded through a multi-million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute, as part of a larger network of COVID-19 immunity studies.

It is awaiting regulatory approval, and they hope to start recruiting participants next month, King said.


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