NCI in Bethesda Conducting Genomic Study for COVID-19

Dr. Stephen Chanock, director of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, is heading a genomics study to determine what genetic variants may affect a person’s recovery from COVID-19.

Chanock would like to determine why some people with COVID-19 barely suffer any symptoms while others succumb to the disease.

“It is not by chance,” he said.

His team of about three dozen people, who work out of offices in Shady Grove, Gaithersburg and Frederick, is gathering blood samples from those who have been infected with the novel coronavirus. The team also is collecting information about the people’s ages, ethnic backgrounds and medical conditions.

Through genetic variants, Chanock hopes to learn who is more at risk for COVID-19 and what kinds of outcomes certain people are likely to incur.

If information about genetic markers can be determined, a doctor should be able to tell what treatment a specific individual will need, he explained. Similar work has been done for years for cancer patients.

Information about who is more likely to get breast cancer comes from genomic studies.

Because of this, the medical community recommends women at higher risk for breast cancer should begin getting mammograms earlier in life, with the goal of detecting their cancer in an earlier, more treatable, stage.

Chanock, who has worked at the NCI for 29 years, and his team are collecting blood samples and information from residents of Montgomery County and the surrounding area as well as the rest of the world to seek out patterns.

“We are poised to be able to make important contributions,” he said, adding that previous studies by the NCI on viruses that cause cancer paved the way for the work his team currently is doing.

However, he stressed, “We don’t see any evidence” that the novel coronavirus causes cancer.

Chanock is proud of his department’s work as well as the efforts of medical professionals throughout the world who are collaborating together to deal with this pandemic.

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