Implementation of serological and molecular tools to inform COVID-19 patient management: protocol for the GENCOV prospective cohort study

BMJ Open. 2021 Sep 30;11(9):e052842. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-052842.


Introduction: There is considerable variability in symptoms and severity of COVID-19 among patients infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Linking host and virus genome sequence information to antibody response and biological information may identify patient or viral characteristics associated with poor and favourable outcomes. This study aims to (1) identify characteristics of the antibody response that result in maintained immune response and better outcomes, (2) determine the impact of genetic differences on infection severity and immune response, (3) determine the impact of viral lineage on antibody response and patient outcomes and (4) evaluate patient-reported outcomes of receiving host genome, antibody and viral lineage results.

Methods and analysis: A prospective, observational cohort study is being conducted among adult patients with COVID-19 in the Greater Toronto Area. Blood samples are collected at baseline (during infection) and 1, 6 and 12 months after diagnosis. Serial antibody titres, isotype, antigen target and viral neutralisation will be assessed. Clinical data will be collected from chart reviews and patient surveys. Host genomes and T-cell and B-cell receptors will be sequenced. Viral genomes will be sequenced to identify viral lineage. Regression models will be used to test associations between antibody response, physiological response, genetic markers and patient outcomes. Pathogenic genomic variants related to disease severity, or negative outcomes will be identified and genome wide association will be conducted. Immune repertoire diversity during infection will be correlated with severity of COVID-19 symptoms and human leucocyte antigen-type associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Participants can learn their genome sequencing, antibody and viral sequencing results; patient-reported outcomes of receiving this information will be assessed through surveys and qualitative interviews.

Ethics and dissemination: This study was approved by Clinical Trials Ontario Streamlined Ethics Review System (CTO Project ID: 3302) and the research ethics boards at participating hospitals. Study findings will be disseminated through peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations and end-users.

Keywords: COVID-19; genetics; immunology; molecular diagnostics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Prospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severity of Illness Index