COVID-19 does not affect all people equally. The disparities in this pandemic are striking. The statistics across the country are that COVID disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities. Why is this? Can we understand the causes of COVID-19 infection and progression to severe disease in racial and ethnic minorities, so as to better prevent and treat it? Dr. Tim Chang, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Dr. Dan Geschwind, Professor of Neurology, have been examining the electronic health records in UCLA Health to answer these two questions. Working with Drs. Bogdan Pasaniuc (UCLA Pathology) and Manish Butte (UCLA Pediatrics), they have used studies of the UCLA Health System Data Discovery Repository to study the characteristics of COVID-19 patients. This data set contains longitudinal electronic records for more than 1.5 million patients since 2013, including patient demographics, complications instead of problems, medications, vital signs, past medical history, and laboratory studies, in an anonymized form.
While these studies are just developing, some interesting findings are emerging. Hispanic patients with serious COVID-19 infections had a significantly higher incidence of kidney and heart disease compared to non-Hispanic patients. Even accounting for these disease conditions, Latinx patients still have a higher hospitalization rate than non-Latinx patients with the same conditions. Additional studies of this data set will identify what other factors are important in this increase in disease severity in Hispanic populations. Ongoing studies are using blood samples from patients at UCLA Health and whole genome sequencing to determine if there are specific elements in genes that might predispose a person to increased disease severity or perhaps resilience in COVID-19 infection.
Much of our understanding of COVID-19 infection comes from state, county or other governmental sources. With a large and diverse patient population, UCLA Health is in a unique position to give a more detailed and precise picture of this pandemic within one health system, and not a more diffuse governmental data base. UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine are also partners in the Institute of Precision Medicine, directed by Dr. Geschwind, which brings genetic techniques and computational medicine to the study of COVID-19. With a large patient care network, the most advanced genetic studies and analysis of the electronic medical record, faculty in the Department of Neurology, the School of Medicine and UCLA Health have an innovative collaboration to solve the riddles of this disease.