For NHS staff

As part of the roll out of staff screening for COVID-19 at Cambridge University Hospitals, we are asking staff to consider participating in COVID-19 related research through the NIHR COVID-19 BioResource, part of the NIHR BioResource.

The NIHR BioResource is a resource of volunteers, with and without health conditions, from around the country who are willing to participate in medical research. To do this, they provide information about their health and lifestyle, and a sample of blood or saliva that can be studied in the laboratory, including for genetic analysis.

The information and samples we collect can help us understand more about health and disease, and also allow us to let volunteers know about research studies that they may be suitable for. This provides an opportunity to take part in research, but there is absolutely no obligation to do so. The NIHR BioResource is already helping us understand and better manage many common and rare diseases.

This new NIHR COVID-19 BioResource is recruiting patients who are admitted to Cambridge University Hospitals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. We are also inviting NHS staff to participate, as this will enable safe, rapid collection of samples from asymptomatic and symptomatic staff, including those showing very few symptoms. The samples and health information (including mental health information) will allow a more detailed analysis of why COVID-19 affects individuals so differently, as well as contributing to staff testing and workforce planning.

Participation in the NIHR COVID-19 BioResource is optional, and staff (and patients) are free to choose whether or not they wish to take part. Biological samples and health information are safely stored and de-identified, and this information cannot be viewed by employers or colleagues.

Donating samples and health information to the NIHR COVID-19 BioResource supports rapid research that is otherwise not yet possible in the general population. NIHR COVID-19 BioResource participants may also be invited to take part in future research studies about COVID-19, and they are free to choose whether or not to accept these invitations.

For further information, please email nbr@bioresource.nihr.ac.uk.

Why are CUH staff being asked to participate in the NIHR COVID-19 BioResource study?

Current constraints on testing for COVID-19 mean that outside of severe possible COVID-19 infections in patients requiring hospitalisation, NHS staff are the only population where significant screening is slowly being increased and where there is a spread of non-infected, asymptomatic, mildly symptomatic and severe infections that would provide the valuable data we need to better understand COVID-19.  Furthermore, as staff are being screened on-site there is no need for unnecessary public or staff travel to collect or transport samples. The information gained this study will be essential for understanding how wide-spread infection is among NHS staff, how common mild and asymptomatic cases are and how quickly people recover and are no longer infectious. Collection of mental health data will also enable us to better understand how the pandemic is affecting staff mental health, so that appropriate support measures can be put in place.

What will CUH staff joining the NIHR COVID-19 BioResource study be asked to do?

When NHS staff are screened for coronavirus infection, they will be asked if they are willing to take part in this study. Those who agree to participate will sign a consent form and specially trained research nurses will collect samples to use in the study. The samples collected will be nose and throat swabs (which are needed for testing anyway) and a blood sample. They will also be asked some questions about their mental health and symptoms and to allow researchers access to their healthcare records.  Staff who test positive may be asked for more blood samples over the course of their recovery.  Participants may also be asked if they would be willing to take part in further research to help researchers understand more about COVID-19. There is no obligation to take part in these further studies.

What is the NIHR BioResource and how do I join?

The NIHR BioResource is made up from volunteers, with and without health conditions, who are willing to be approached to participate in research studies and clinical trials. Participants who have given their consent provide a biological sample (usually a blood sample), answer a short questionnaire about their health and lifestyle, and allow researchers to access their healthcare records.

The biological samples are analysed to provide genetic and other information, which is safely stored.  Researchers who are carrying out research studies and trials that need participants with particular symptoms or genes can then as the team at NIHR BioResource to invite matching BioResource participants to take part in their studies.  BioResource participants are free to decide which (if any) studies they want to take part in.

There are 13 NIHR BioResource local centres throughout England, and they are located in Cambridge (headquarters), Birmingham, Exeter, Leeds, Leicester, London – includes Barts, Guy’s and St Thomas’, Maudsley, Moorfields and UCLH, Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton. If you are interested in finding out more, please contact your local centre.

It is currently possible to join the NIHR BioResource without providing a biological sample.  If you are interested in joining, or have any questions, please email: nbr@bioresource.nihr.ac.uk

What do you mean by ‘sample-based’ and ‘data-based’ studies?

Researchers can apply to the NIHR COVID-19 BioResource to use the biological samples collected and stored from participants for their research studies. This kind of sample-based research may involve looking at the immune cell types present in the blood samples or looking for particular genes that might relate to how people react to COVID-19, for example, and doesn’t require further participation from the sample donors. One set of the samples donated by NIHR COVID-19 BioResource participants is used for genomic analysis to identify genes of interest. Data from participants is also available from their healthcare records, and the questionnaire or survey that they fill in when they join.  Researchers applying to use the NIHR COVID-19 BioResource can apply to use this de-identified data to look for patterns in COVID-19 outcomes or severity. For example, using health care records and genomic analysis, researchers could look to see if severe COVID-19 infection was more common among people with a particular gene, or whether people with particular health conditions are more likely to be hospitalised with COVID-19.

What kind of studies are planned for the samples?

There are already several studies planned for the samples. Initially, the swab samples will be used to test a new, faster way of diagnosing COVID-19 on the hospital ward and the blood samples will be used to test a way of finding out whether people have had the virus or not (these are called ‘antibody tests’). Both of these studies will be crucial in helping the NHS through this pandemic, by helping to quickly separate infected and non-infected people in the emergency room, by helping to identify healthcare staff who have the virus but may be asymptomatic and by allowing staff who have had the virus and recovered back to work. These studies are led by Professor Ravindra Gupta, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Cambridge.

NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Theme Lead for Inflammation, Infection and Immunotherapeutics, Professor Ken Smith, and other researchers at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease (CITIID) will be studying how each participant’s immune system has responded to the virus and whether particular types of immune ‘response’ are related to mild or severe symptoms. This information will help in the development of effective vaccines and may help doctors to identify people who are more at risk of severe symptoms before they are infected.

Our BRC Theme Lead for Mental Health, Professor Ed Bullmore, and his team will be studying the mental health of staff and patients with COVID-19. NIHR COVID-19 BioResource participants will be invited to complete a mental health questionnaire when they join the study, and this will help researchers to track what happens with participants’ mental health as they recover and move forward. This effort is in collaboration with Professor Gerome Breen at the NIHR BioResource Centre Maudsley, King’s College London.

The really exciting thing about the NIHR COVID-19 BioResource though, is that it enables research studies that haven’t yet been thought of but need participants with COVID-19. If researchers identify an important link between infection and outcomes, they could apply to the NIHR BioResource to check for the link using the saved samples, data or by inviting the participants to participate in a new research study.

Who will have access to my personal information and genetic data?

We use a process called ‘pseudo-anonymisation’ so that research staff who work with your samples cannot identify you. The database that holds the genetic and biological data is separate to the one that holds personal data. Access to both databases is restricted to trained staff at the NIHR BioResource and cannot be accessed by staff working in the hospital. The database that holds all personally identifiable information such as names, addresses and the answers provided in your questionnaire can only be accessed by the NIHR BioResource recruitment team who may contact you in the future about your participation in research studies. The database that holds the genetic information is accessed by the research team and a limited number of the data services team only, who do not have access to the database that holds personal information. Your data will only be shared with approved COVID-19 research teams, with only the information necessary for research.

What if I change my mind about taking part?

Participants are free to withdraw from the NIHR BioResource at any time without giving a reason. Please contact us on 0800 090 22 33 or email with ‘withdraw from NIHR BioResource‘ in the subject line, include your name, address and date of birth in the email, and we will initiate the withdrawal process.

Who do I contact if I have concerns?

If you have any concerns or complaints about anything to do with the NIHR BioResource then you can call our Freephone number on: 0800 090 2233 Mon to Fri 9:00-17:00 or email us at nbr@bioresource.nihr.ac.uk

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