Dozens of patients at Morriston Hospital with Covid-19 have given blood to help discover why some people are more susceptible to it than others.
Scientists and clinicians believe the answer can be found in our DNA and are recruiting patients worldwide to study their genetic differences.
The pandemic has triggered a series of urgent research studies, which experts from across Swansea Bay are participating in.
Genetics of Mortality in Critical Care, known as GenOMICC, is the largest study of its kind.
It has been recruiting patients since 2016 to study emerging infections such as SARS, flu and now, Covid-19, as well as sepsis and other forms of critical illness.
Our genes can determine how much critical illness affects us. The study seeks to find the genes that cause some people to become more acutely unwell. This may help develop better treatments.
Morriston Hospital is one of 194 participating sites in the UK, covering 4,800 intensive care beds.
In Morriston, the study has been led by Ceri Battle, Luke Newey and Karen James from the Ed Major Critical Care Unit physiotherapy team.
It was set up by research administrator Carl Murphy in three days – the process normally takes weeks.
Consultant critical care physiotherapist Dr Ceri Battle said around 2,500 people had been recruited across the UK in the last few months.
“In Morriston we have recruited 46 and were the first Welsh site to open, and we’ve been in the top 20 recruiters around the UK.
“Whenever a highly suspected or confirmed Covid case comes into intensive care, a blood sample is taken from the patient – either with the patient’s consent or that of their family if the patient is unconscious.
“We also take basic details such as their age, previous medical history, whether they have any comorbidities and whether they are on an immunosuppressant.”
The work at Morriston has been a collaborative effort, with the ITU nurses taking the blood samples and the research nurse team obtaining consent.
The research nurse team, led by Yvette Ellis and consisting of Tabitha Rees, Rachel Harford, Elaine Brinkworth, Marie Williams and Sharon Storton, also collates the patient data to send to the trial office in Edinburgh.
Dr Battle said GenOMICC was working closely with other research studies and sharing its early findings with them.
“The research we conduct on the Ed Major Critical Care Unit is always valuable, but participating in the GenOMICC study feels that bit more important,” said Dr Battle.
“As a team, every time we recruit a patient, it really feels like we are making a difference in the fight against Covid-19.
“I know the patients and their families also feel the same. They just want to do something to help, however small that contribution may seem at the moment.
“Along with the ITU bedside nurses, including those that don’t normally work on the unit, we have a great research team that has now worked together for a few years.
“That has really helped us during this really busy period.”
GenOMICC is one of several studies given priority status by the office of the UK Chief Medical Office, in which Swansea Bay is participating.
Dr Battle is also Swansea Bay lead on one, ISARIC. This involves clinical investigations of confirmed Covid-19 cases to collect as much data as possible in a format that can be quickly shared and analysed globally.
Other international studies Swansea Bay is participating in include REMAP-CAP, which tests a number of treatment therapies to find the safest and most effective combination.
Another, Recovery, aims to identify treatments that may be beneficial for people hospitalised with suspected or confirmed Covid-19.
We’ll be highlighting these and other studies in the weeks ahead.
Jemma Hughes, Swansea Bay’s research and development manager, said: “Along with our NHS colleagues across the UK, we are proudly supporting these key clinical studies.
“The pace of work has been unprecedented with the ambition to support finding effective treatment for Covid-19 patients.
“Through its Joint Clinical Research Facility, run in partnership with Swansea University, the health board also hopes to be involved in early vaccine studies as these are released over the coming year.”