Young volunteers are exposed to Covid-19 in new UK study

Reported as the world’s first “human challenge” study for Covid-19, scientists in the UK are to infect young, healthy volunteers with coronavirus for research in the coming weeks.

The key aims of this Human Challenge Study include discovering exactly how much virus is needed to cause an infection, how exactly the body’s immune system responds to the virus, and studying the very early infection stages before people develop symptoms. This is often termed the latency period of a disease.

Having gained ethical approval from the Health Research Authority, this study is to be delivered by a partnership between the UK’s Vaccines Taskforce, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, Imperial College London, and a clinical company named hVIVO. 

hVIVO’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Andrew Catchpole said in a statement

“We will start to see useful results very quickly after the commencement of the study. From the moment we inoculate someone with this virus, we will learn important information about disease progression and treatment. This crucial data feeds directly back into how to develop effective vaccines and better treatments because they identify what type of immune response needs to be triggered.”

Fuelled by a £33.6 million UK government investment, the trial aims to recruit 90 people aged 18-30; the age group at much lower risk of disease complications.

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Dr Chris Chiu, a chief investigator from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London, stated

“We are asking for volunteers aged between 18 and 30 to join this research endeavour to help us to understand how the virus infects people and how it passes so successfully between us. Our eventual aim is to quickly test which vaccines and treatments work best in beating this disease.”

These young volunteers will be screened to check that they have had no previous infection. Then the virus will be squirted up every volunteer’s nose in a controlled environment, while doctors monitor their health over 14 days of hospital quarantine. 

These volunteers are to receive £4,500 in compensation for their involvement over the year-long follow up, which will include check ups and follow-up tests.

According to a statement released by Imperial College London, due to the lack of information available about new virus variants, the doctors will use the original virus that has been circulating the UK since last March 2020 to infect volunteers. The investigation is to take place at the NHS-run Royal Free Hospital in London, which has special units for containing the virus.

Royal Free London group chief executive, Caroline Clarke, said

“We are delighted that this hugely important study has been given ethics approval and are proud to be part of this important partnership which we hope will advance the world’s understanding of COVID-19. The Royal Free Hospital has a great history and tradition of treating and researching infectious diseases and our infectious diseases centre is renowned across the world for its work in this specialist area. We are looking forward to working alongside all of the partners on such a vital piece of work over the coming months.”

Currently, the scientists involved are recruiting volunteers in the UK. For further information about the trial or information on how to register, this website named “UK Covid Challenge” can provide some more answers.

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Emma Monaghan

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