Created in just three days, the free monitoring app has been developed as a partnership between researchers at King’s and health data science company ZOE led by Dr Tim Spector, Professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College London and director of the TwinsUK study.
The aim of the app is to track in real time how the disease progresses to help slow the outbreak and to identify: How fast the virus is spreading in your area, high-risk areas in the country, and who is most at risk, by better understanding symptoms linked to underlying health conditions.
The app was made available to the general public on March 24th and has been installed at a rate of 50,000 times an hour, with the total number of downloads now at over 1 million. Next the scientists will release their data to the NHS, data modellers and researchers.
Researchers believe that the data from the study will reveal important information about the symptoms and progress of the COVID-19 infection in different people, and why some go on to develop more severe or fatal disease while others have only mild symptoms.
They also say it will help the urgent clinical need to distinguish mild coronavirus symptoms from seasonal coughs and colds, which may be leading people to unnecessarily self-isolate when they aren’t infected or inadvertently go out and spread the disease when they are.
Professor Tim Spector said: “These are worrying times for everyone. Our twins are fantastically committed, enthusiastic health research participants who have already been studied in unprecedented detail, putting us in a unique position to provide vital answers to support the global fight against COVID-19.
"The more of the public that also use the app, the better the real-time data we will have to combat the outbreak in this country.”
Initially, around 5,000 twins and their families were initially recruited from the TwinsUK cohort study to trial the app. Users recorded information about their health on a daily basis. Any participants showing signs of COVID-19 were sent a home testing kit to better understand what symptoms truly correspond to the coronavirus infection. The home testing component is not available to the general public.
Comparing genetically identical twins with non-identical twins, who are as related as regular siblings, enables researchers to separate the effects of genes from environmental factors such as diet, lifestyle, previous illnesses and infections, and the microbiome.
Samples taken from the twin group will be used to generate a biobank for use in future research projects investigating infection and immune responses.
The TwinsUK COVID-19 research study is funded by King’s College London, ZOE Global Ltd, the CDRF charity, and the National Institute of Health Research Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre. Any data gathered from the app and study will be used strictly for public health or academic research and will not be used commercially or sold.
TwinsUK is a scientific study of 15,000 identical and non-identical twins, which has been running for nearly three decades. Most already have taken part in comprehensive genetic analysis and immune profiling, as well as detailed gut microbiome profiling.