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Exploring a Potential Link between Tissue Match Genes and COVID-19

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Researcher Examines Biomarkers for Understanding Severity of COVID Symptoms
Mon, 06/22/2020 - 08:00

New Brunswick, N.J., June 22, 2020 – Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers across Rutgers University have played an important role in understanding the virus and exploring potential treatments for those diagnosed. An important question remains: Why do some people experience respiratory and cardiovascular distress, while others have no symptoms at all? A new study led by Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the Gift of Life Marrow Registry seeks to answer this question by checking how different versions of immune-vital genes screened for transplant matching may shape who develops or resists COVID-19. The study is being conducted in collaboration with Root, a scientific company that helps interpret genetic variation. 

DNA helix

The Gift of Life Marrow Registry is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, that facilitates bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood-related diseases. In the study, more than 350,000 potential bone marrow donors in Gift of Life’s registry will be invited to take the survey on whether they have had COVID-19 and if so, what symptoms and treatments they received. 

“The study aims to learn whether genes fundamental to the immune system (known as Human Leukocyte Antigens – HLA)  and other genes help explain why some people avoid COVID-19, while others develop severe symptoms or respond to particular treatments,” said the study’s principal investigator Jeffrey Rosenfeld, PhD, manager of the Biomedical Informatics Shared Resource at Rutgers Cancer Institute and assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “We’re excited to add key data to the fight against COVID-19, to help clinicians better understand how the human immune system responds to the virus.” 

Gift of Life CEO Jay Feinberg added, “We have a responsibility to do our part to help the world understand and ultimately overcome this virus. Gift of Life is pleased to be collaborating with Rutgers Cancer Institute and Dr. Rosenfeld on this very important study.” And Root's founder, geneticist Nathaniel Pearson, PhD, noted, “Because transplant registries read tissue match genes better than consumer DNA tests do, a study like this can best reveal how such immune-vital genes may shape COVID-19. Gift of Life's members have long helped save cancer patients -- and now they show how everyday people can help the world tackle a pandemic too.”

For qualified and willing participants, follow-up surveys will be administered for up to one year. Over that time, researchers will study how participants develop or avoid COVID-19, develop particular symptoms, or benefit from particular treatments. This data will be analyzed to find any associations of tissue match genes with such outcomes. 


About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute, along with its partner RWJBarnabas Health, offers the most advanced cancer treatment options including bone marrow transplantation, proton therapy, CAR T-cell therapy and complex robotic surgery.  Along with clinical trials and novel therapeutics such as precision medicine and immunotherapy – many of which are not widely available – patients have access to these cutting-edge therapies at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital in Newark, as well as through RWJBarnabas Health facilities.

Along with world-class treatment, which is often fueled by on-site research conducted in Rutgers Cancer Institute laboratories, patients and their families also can seek cancer preventative services and education resources throughout the Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health footprint statewide. To make a tax-deductible gift to support the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 848-932-8013 or visit

About Gift of Life Marrow Registry
Gift of Life Marrow Registry is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla. The organization, established in 1991, is dedicated to saving lives by facilitating bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood-related diseases. To learn more about Gift of Life Marrow Registry, visit

About Root
Root ( works to grow, diversify, and engage the ranks of blood and marrow volunteers — earth's biggest group of living, contactable DNA data owners — to save patients in need, honor their good will with good insights, and empower them to spark broader health science discoveries with researchers.



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