3d computer illustration of T Cell

City of Hope researchers mining database for COVID clues

James Lacey
James Lacey Jr., Ph.D., M.P.H.
Researchers looking to control the spread of COVID-19 are working with City of Hope scientists who manage a 25-year-old landmark study originally developed to track breast cancer.
“With a new and rapidly evolving situation like COVID-19, there’s an urgent need for more data on all aspects of this pandemic. This information could be used to develop treatments and create good policy,” said James Lacey Jr., Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Division of Health Analytics at City of Hope and one of the principal investigators of the ongoing California Teachers Study that began in 1995. Since then, scientists have expanded the study to examine a wide range of risk factors and health outcomes, including different cancers, heart conditions and even immune function.
Having access to historical data on up to 133,477 study participants, Lacey said, enables researchers to adjust for confounding risk factors such as diabetes, cancer and heart conditions so that a crisp image of COVID-19 is developed: where it’s spreading, who it’s affecting and their health outcomes.
For example, a physician-scientist at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues across many U.S. institutions are asking people to use a mobile app called “COVID Symptom Tracker.” They intend to collect real-time data on the spread of COVID-19, including identification of new, high-risk regions that may benefit from greater testing or hospital capacity, as well as temporary changes in public policy. To quickly grow their pool of participants, the group reached out to City of Hope’s team about a partnership that would invite California Teachers Study participants to join the COVID-19 research effort.
Recently the gut microbiome has been used to predict disease susceptibility and even impending mortality. The predictive power of the microbiome may also extend to SARS-CoV-2 infection: COVID-19 symptom severity and disease prognosis. The lab of Rob Knight, Ph.D., at University of California San Diego is tapping into the highly responsive participants in the California Teachers Study for samples of stool, saliva and blood, among other bio samples and data.
Other studies in the works include a potential collaboration with a Southern California university to perform coronavirus antibody testing, as well as this seventh California Teachers Study survey, which will collect answers on COVID-19-related and healthy aging questions.
“Cancer epidemiologists generally analyze things that have happened in the past. Long-running cancer cohorts historically have not done much real-time research on infectious diseases,” Lacey said. “But this unprecedented pandemic and the years of work spent to modernize our California Teachers Study infrastructure have allowed our cancer cohort to help in the international fight to stem the spread of COVID-19.”