Genetic testing company 23andMe studying coronavirus

Posted at 11:59 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 23:59:59-04

COVID-19 research is taking place around the world, most at universities but some private companies are doing their own studies as well. That includes 23andMe.

The popular genetic testing company just released preliminary results of their study using customer data to analyze how blood type plays a role in the virus. A local doctor weighed in on the study and provides insight about what to take away from it and why you may or may not want to participate.

People with the O blood type could be less likely to contract coronavirus, according to what 23andMe's study is showing.

"The 23andMe data really is legitimate," Dr. Christopher Belcher, infection prevention medical director at Ascension St. Vincent, said. "There've been several other studies that have been hinting at that as well."

Belcher is referencing two other studies — one from Italy and Spain, the other from China — all of them helping us better understand this virus that's forever changed our world.

23andMe's study has more than 750,000 participants who qualified and agreed to get involved after using the company for genetic testing. The O blood type had the lowest percent of those testing positive.

While the studies are good news, Dr. Belcher doesn't want you throwing caution to the wind.

"You can't walk out and say, 'I have blood type O I'm invincible,' because those people got sick, too," Belcher said. "They were less likely to but the difference was not enough."

Drawing on its more than 10 million customers, 23andMe has been pushing hard for more people to take part in the study. From a medical standpoint, Dr. Belcher said the study is a good thing but he thinks people should consider this before they participate.

"There are privacy concerns when you give up your genetic material to a company and what they're going to do with it so I'd definitely read it very carefully, the whole study consent form before you agree to it," Belcher said.

Belcher said medical professionals and researchers continue to learn more about the virus every day.

"We continue to learn new things about this virus, we're learning more and more — who's at risk and how this virus works," Belcher said. "Do the simple things. Wear your face masks when you're out to protect others, wash your hands really well so you don't pick it up, if you're high risk you should still be at home as much as you can and not around large groups of people."