COVID-19 Study Early Insights

COVID-19 Study’s Early Insights Shed Light on New Trends 

Since the launch of our COVID-19 Study in March 2020, LunaDNA members have submitted over 340,000 responses to gather physical and mental wellness information directly from individuals during this global pandemic.

Early insights we previously released in July revealed that one in six participants had taken a COVID-19 test and nearly one-third had tested positive. Today, we can identify a new shift in trends that better represent the current state of the world.

Across the globe, members have expressed how they are impacted by COVID-19, their current health conditions, and the behaviors they have since implemented into their daily lives. Based on our recent collection of survey data, nearly 1 in 20 respondents have tested positive for COVID-19, where 25–44-year olds were more likely to test positive than any other age demographic.

Other preliminary insights from the survey data reveal that of those who have tested positive, 41.5% have an existing health condition.

The following infographic shares key findings on this unique demographic’s behaviors, including how 100% of these respondents are practicing social distancing and only 13% have sought care from a hospital of health care facility.

COVID-19 Study Excerpt
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Different than many institutional studies, the ongoing LunaDNA COVID-19 Study offers people and communities easy-to-use tools to capture their lived experience during this unique time, recognizing that each person, community, and geography is impacted differently and will likely experience different long-term effects.

Sharon Terry, COVID-19 Study partner and CEO and President of Genetic Alliance, presented these early insights to the National Academy of  Medicine’s (NAM) Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats.

“This study is conducted by the people, for the people, and in collaboration with various communities. This inclusive approach has garnered broad appreciation both for its ability to incorporate real-world experiences but also because it’s empowering people to have a voice in what will not be a one-size-fits-all solution to COVID-19. We are responding to NAM’s recommendation to expand to at-risk individuals such as those in nursing homes and detention centers. When unique voices and experiences are represented, researchers can deliver more precise answers.”

COVID and Communities  

LunaPBC, the public benefit corporation behind the LunaDNA platform, is collaborating with various community groups to support privacy-protected COVID-19 study including Genetic Alliance and Disease InfoSearch, xCures, San Diego Blood Bank, and the Propionic Acidemia Foundation. Each community’s study has a unique focus, ranging from how the virus affects cancer, genetic disorders and co-morbidities, to general data-sharing for research studies and clinical trials.

We encourage community leaders to create their own COVID-19 study program and leverage the LunaDNA infrastructure to better understand the impact of the coronavirus in their communities. Please contact us at collaboration@lunadna.com to explore your needs and goals.

Answers Wanted  

The COVID-19 Study is an IRB-approved study. If you are a researcher interested in qualifying and/or quantifying the short- and long-term physical and mental impact of the coronavirus pandemic and/or COVID-19 disease, we want to meet you. The LunaDNA platform exists to bridge individuals, communities, and researchers for privacy-protected, socially responsible discovery that improves health and quality of life in local communities and beyond. The need to invite individuals into research from the safety of their home, and to incorporate their lived experience into discovery, has never been clearer. Please contact us at discovery@lunadna.com.

Your Voice Matters  

We invite all people over the age of 18 to join the COVID-19 Study by taking the physical and mental wellness questionnaires on LunaDNA. Together, we can surface insights to improve our current state and better prepare for future pandemics. The LunaDNA platform preserves your personal privacy, is simple to join, and is free of charge.

This is an ongoing study and is open to everyone from all over the world. We encourage you to share your experiences during this unique time to build a representative body of knowledge and help scientists better understand this global pandemic.

Click here to take the new vaccine survey in the COVID-19 Study.

Stressed woman wearing surgical mask

Know Your Health: Is Anxiety Genetic?

By LunaDNA Contributing Writer 

Many people experience anxiety during their lifetime. However, anxiety is not normal if it takes over your life.

A genetic predisposition for anxiety can trigger an over-the-top response to a low-key event. There are many risk factors for anxiety disorders including genetics, personality, brain chemistry, and external influences.  

Learn more about anxiety, including:   

  • What is Anxiety?
  • Types of Anxiety Disorders
  • Symptoms of Anxiety
  • What Causes Anxiety?
  • Is Anxiety Genetic?
  • Is Anxiety Hereditary?
  • Anxiety Diagnosis

Generalized Anxiety Disorder 

Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic condition characterized by incessant and excessive worrying. A person with this disorder expects the worst, even when there is no plausible reason to do so. Feeling anxious for no reason is a common sentiment for those with this condition.  

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, generalized anxiety disorder sometimes runs in families. It’s unknown why some family members have it while others do not. The specific cause is unknown, but it is suspected that it’s a combination of family history, biological factors, and stressful life experiences.  

Symptoms may include: 

  • worrying too much
  • feeling nervous
  • feeling restless
  • difficulty concentrating
  • being easily startled
  • having insomnia
  • feeling exhausted
  • feeling irritable
  • sweating
  • feeling light-headed
  • feeling out of breath
  • difficulty swallowing
  • trembling
  • having to go to the bathroom frequently
  • having headaches
  • having stomach aches

Treatment by a doctor may include therapy and/or medication. 

Panic Disorder & Panic Attacks 

Panic attacks are recurring sudden attacks of terror that often come with debilitating physical symptoms. The episodes can last minutes or hours. A trigger may bring on the attacks, but often they arise for seemingly no reason. Symptoms include accelerated heart rate, trembling or shaking, having trouble breathing, sweating, feeling out of control, or feeling doomed. Because panic attacks are traumatic, some people with this disorder constantly worry when the next attack will occur and avoid places or situations. This can lead to another anxiety disorder called agoraphobia, which is the fear and avoidance of certain places or situations that might make you feel helpless or embarrassed. 

If left untreated, panic attacks can turn into a panic disorder. This occurs when a panic attack is followed up with a month or more of intense and constant worrying about the next panic attack and the fallout from it. However, not everyone that has panic attacks has a panic disorder. Treatment by a doctor for both conditions may include therapy and/or medication. 

Social Anxiety Disorder 

People with social anxiety disorder fear being in social or performance situations in which they might be judged negatively or be embarrassed. While it’s normal to get stage fright, people with this disorder tend to avoid public situations and human contact.  

Symptoms include blushing, accelerated heartbeat, sweating, trembling, nausea, lightheadedness, trouble breathing, and muscle tension. A typical response to this anxiety disorder is to avoid social situations whenever possible. Treatment by a doctor may include therapy and/or medication. 

Symptoms of Anxiety 

Although there are various types of anxiety disorders, many signs and symptoms of the types are similar including:  

  • accelerated heart rate
  • hyperventilation
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • sense of doom or panic
  • nervousness
  • restlessness
  • tension
  • tiredness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • insomnia
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • inability to stop worrying
  • having trouble controlling urge to avoid trigger events

Is Anxiety Genetic? 

Several parts of the brain play a role in fear and anxiety, so its genetic connections are complex. Through continued research, collecting data, and by learning more about how the brain functions in particular anxiety disorders, researchers can help create better treatments.  

Anxiety can be triggered by certain external events, and people with certain predispositions may be wired to react anxiously. It is possible that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to an anxiety disorder.  

While the link between genetics and anxiety is still unclear, it has been shown that anxiety disorders run in families. Genetically-linked brain disorders are complex, and more research needs to be done to truly understand whether or not anxiety is hereditary. 

Anxiety Diagnosis  

Diagnosing anxiety can be complex, so it is important to see a doctor or psychiatrist to get properly evaluated. A doctor may start with a physical exam to see if there is an underlying condition causing the anxiety. Laboratory testing of blood and urine samples may also be needed to rule out other possible causes. The doctor will look at medical history and ask questions to determine the proper diagnosis. If you experience some or all of the symptoms of anxiety, consult your physician. 

Treatments for Anxiety 

Treatments for anxiety vary largely based on the type of anxiety, root cause, and each individual’s situation and symptoms. A doctor decides how to treat patients based on what they need to function better in daily life. Two primary avenues of treatment are most common: recommended therapy to relieve stress and the use of anti-anxiety medication. Depending on the severity of an individual’s anxiety, a physician may recommend both therapy and medication as the best treatment.  

The field of pharmacogenomics, the study of how gene’s affect drug response, is making great strides in identifying which medications and dosages work better based on a patient’s genetic makeup. However, more research is needed to understand exactly how genetics plays a role in anxiety disorders and brain chemistry. As research continues, meaningful scientific breakthroughs will lead to better prevention and treatment of anxiety disorders. 

If you’d like to help researchers better understand anxiety and other genetic disorders, take the LunaDNA mental wellness survey. The more people who come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.  

Click here to get started.

Pharmacogenomics and FDA Regulations

Here’s How Pharmacogenomics Is Changing Medicine For The Better

There are currently more than 40 drugs approved to treat depression. For many patients, it can be an experience in trial and error to determine what drug or combination works the best with the fewest side effects.

In an ideal situation, your genetic profile could inform your doctor the best drug, along with the best dose. The good news is that this scenario is a growing and exciting field of research called pharmacogenomics. 

Pharmacogenomics describes how your genetic make-up could affect your response to certain drugs. This relatively new field combines the study of pharmacology with genomics, allowing researchers and clinicians to understand how individual genetics can be used to determine the best treatment in regards to efficacy, safety and other factors. Pharmacogenomics has found uses in cardiology, psychiatry, and oncology, among other therapeutic areas.

There are nearly 400 drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that use pharmacogenomics in prescribing. In addition, there are non-human genetic biomarkers, including those found in your microbiome, that can affect how your body reacts to drugs like antibiotics.

One example of using pharmacogenomics in treatment is the use of CYP2D6, an enzyme metabolized in the liver. There are over 100 variations of this enzyme, with many dependent on ethnicity, that can affect toxicity and efficacy. For example, drugs that treat high blood pressure and depression can be personalized dependent on CYP2D6 pharmacogenetics, such as the dose, response and toxicity risk. It can also affect the efficacy of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen and the body’s metabolizing of codeine to morphine.

Psychiatry is one field where pharmacogenomics is gaining increasing attention. The Clinical Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium recommends clinicians not prescribe certain drugs to patients who carry variations of CYP2D6 or CYP2C19 associated with rapid or slow metabolism of these drugs. However, few clinical guidelines exist on when and how to provide patients genetic testing to determine if they carry these variations. It’s estimated that at least 8% of patients would benefit from this type of testing. However, research is still ongoing, and the relationship between these genetic variations and the effectiveness of antidepressants has not been confirmed.

While this medical information is useful when clinicians are prescribing medicine for their patients, direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies are now providing pharmacogenomic results directly to individuals.

In late 2018, the FDA approved the first commercial pharmacogenomics test, however, it cautioned that the test is not intended to provide information on an individual’s response to a specific medication or be used to make treatment decisions. Almost immediately, the FDA issued a statement on direct-to-consumer genetic tests that provide pharmacogenomic results, essentially recommending against changing treatment decisions based on results from these types of genetic tests.

The FDA is now looking at regulating consumer companies in this field, especially as more and more companies provide pharmacogenomic results in their client reports. The federal agency is concerned that as this field grows, patients may receive inaccurate or incomplete results that lead them to make poor or even harmful treatment decisions. In April, the FDA issued a warning letter to one company it said was illegally marketing its pharmacogenomics test to the public

“We are particularly concerned about pharmacogenetic tests that claim to predict patients’ responses to specific medications where such claims have not been established and are not described in the drug labeling and continue to warn patients and health care professionals that they should not rely on these tests for treatment decisions, ”said Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a recent press release from the FDA.

Similar to releasing genetic results without the nuances of a genetics counselor to help interpret the results, the agency is concerned patients will make treatment decisions based on tests that could be inaccurate.

However, several groups are questioning the FDA’s recent actions. 

Four mental health advocacy  groups recently sent a joint letter to the FDA citing that this recent decision could impede innovation and inflict harm on patients. Health care providers and patients, they say, should have all of the information, tools and resources to advocate for the best treatments for themselves. In addition, the American Clinical Laboratory Association issued a letter to the FDA, sharing that the recent restrictions could increase medical costs and impact care.

While the use of marketing pharmacogenomics is being debated, the obvious answer is the need for more confirmatory research where pharmacogenomics is being used in clinical decisions. That’s where LunaDNA can help. 

Individuals who securely and privately share their genetic results in the LunaDNA platform can contribute to research, which may include pharmacogenomic. Users can be rewarded for their participation in crowd-sourcing science, while helping to advance discoveries in this field.