University of Cambridge researchers and Huma begin in-depth study of early detection of COVID-19 infection

London and Cambridge, UK - 23 July 2020 - UK digital health and therapeutics company Huma is teaming up with the renowned Fenland Study research team at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge to begin a study to understand the progression and early signs of COVID-19 infection.


The study will measure antibodies to determine how many people have previously been infected with COVID-19 in the first wave of the pandemic and will observe the development of antibodies over the next months. It will use information collected by participants and new digital biomarkers to develop new predictive models for early identification of COVID-19 infection. The study will also allow researchers to investigate the effects of public health and policy responses such as social distancing on health-related behaviours, well-being and mental health.


The research team will use remote patient monitoring (RPM) technology from Huma to collect real-world data from participants, which can be combined with the existing Fenland dataset alongside to unlock new insights. Participants will use a novel Drawbridge One Draw device to take blood samples at home which can be sent into the laboratory for analysis of COVID 19 antibodies without the need for a direct interface with the health care system. 


The Fenland Study, led by Chief Investigator Professor Nick Wareham, is a population-based study set in Cambridgeshire. Participants were recruited at random from a population-based sampling frame to investigate the interaction between genetic and behavioural factors on diabetes, obesity, and related metabolic disorders. What makes the Fenland Study unique is the level of detail it collects about the health and lifestyle of participants, and the objective measurement techniques that have been used to quantify behaviours like physical activity. The Study has tracked 12,500 patients for up to 15 years, combining detailed genetic profiles with objective clinical measurements including blood-based biomarkers, resting metabolic rate, cardio-respiratory fitness, physical activity, energy expenditure and body composition, as well as information from questionnaires on diet, physical activity and other behaviours.


Professor Nick Wareham commented:

“The representative recruitment strategy of the Fenland study makes it an ideal setting in which to investigate how the first wave of COVID-19 has affected the population. Our close contact with the participants and our strategic ambition to obtain data from participants in real time has been married with the aim of developing digital biomarkers of COVID-19 in this exciting new study. We are launching this study now as early detection of possible COVID-19 infection and efficient diagnostic testing and tracing are the cornerstone of efforts to minimise the impacts of any subsequent waves of infection.”


Through Huma’s smartphone app, researchers will ask participants to provide detailed health data to provide critical insights into the detection and progression of COVID-19. The new study will measure participants’ COVID-19 signs and symptoms, such as heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate, blood oxygen, and temperature; activity measures collected through smartphones sensors and connected devices; risk factors and health information such as body weight and diet changes; medication and supplement use; and information on mental health and wellbeing.


The use of Huma’s digital platform allows the research team to efficiently and safely collect information without in-person contact between participants and researchers. The study has begun recruitment and the participant app will go live in late July. It is planned to go on for at least six months, but may be extended depending on the extent of COVID-19 spread and containment this winter.


Dan Vahdat, Founder and CEO of Huma, stated:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear to the world that the traditional way of looking after patients is limited. For the first time in history, we have platforms, devices, and data collection and analysis capabilities that can change how healthcare is delivered, putting a mini hospital in your pocket. We are excited to work with the University of Cambridge to discover new digital biomarkers and health insights based on the Fenland study of 12,500 individuals and their health data for up to fifteen years. With this in-depth health data, we look forward to uncovering new insights and digital biomarkers that can aid in understanding the early indicators and disease progression of COVID-19 and far beyond.”


About Huma

Huma partners with scientists, technologists and healthcare professionals to understand, treat and ultimately prevent ill health. Giving knowledge and power to those with medical conditions, while saving clinicians time, energy and valuable resources. Because, by collectively benefiting from the data we individually generate, we can all live our longest, fullest lives.


About the MRC Epidemiology Unit

The MRC Epidemiology Unit is a department at the University of Cambridge. It studies the genetic, developmental and environmental factors that cause obesity, type 2 diabetes and related metabolic disorders and the development and evaluation of strategies for the prevention of these diseases in the general population.


About the Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-three MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. The Medical Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation.


About the University of Cambridge

The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. To date, 109 affiliates of the University have won the Nobel Prize.


Founded in 1209, the University comprises 31 autonomous Colleges and 150 departments, faculties and institutions. Cambridge is a global university. Its 19,000 student body includes 3,700 international students from 120 countries. Cambridge researchers collaborate with colleagues worldwide, and the University has established larger-scale partnerships in Asia, Africa and America.


The University sits at the heart of the ‘Cambridge cluster’, which employs more than 61,000 people and has in excess of £15 billion in turnover generated annually by the 5,000 knowledge-intensive firms in and around the city. The city publishes 316 patents per 100,000 residents.


About the Fenland Study

The Fenland Study investigates the interaction between environmental and genetic factors in determining obesity, type 2 diabetes, and related metabolic disorders. The Fenland Study is unique in the level of detail it collects about the health and lifestyle of participants, and the objective measurement techniques used in the screening.

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