HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ancestry.com is best known for helping people explore their family histories. Now, the Utah-based company has launched a massive study into COVID-19, tapping into its huge DNA network as a means to gather more information.
"We have the biggest consumer genetic data base in the world," said Dr. Catherine Ball, Ancestry's Chief Scientific Officer.
The Hawaii-native and Kalaheo High School graduate is leading the search for clues into how people who were exposed to coronavirus eventually responded to it.
“We look at that and say, ‘There’s probably a genetic reason why some people are getting very very sick and some people aren’t,'” she said.
Ancestry subscribers who consent and complete an online survey can participate and allow the company to use their DNA information in the study. Oahu resident Gordon Grau signed on and hopes the research leads to something.
“I figured the more we can enrich the database, the more opportunities there might be to find some link genetically with people who are more susceptible to COVID than others,” he said.
The data will be available to COVID-19 researchers who are looking for treatments and vaccines.
"We will obviously have the survey open and the data available for the time it takes for researchers to decide if it's useful or not," said Dr. Ron Park, Ancestry's Executive Vice President of DNA and Health.
Dr. Ball says Ancestry has taken extra steps to ensure member’s information is protected.
“All the identifiers will be stripped out, so there will be no way of linking anybody’s DNA data or survey questions with their identity.” she said.
More than 500,000 members have agreed to participate. Ancestry hopes to build a research pool of about 1 million members.