New York City virus database may advance research into factors contributing to respiratory illness severity

Viral respiratory infections are a significant public health concern. A study publishing January 18 in the open access journal PLOS Biology by Marta Galanti at Columbia University, New York, United States and colleagues used longitudinal cohort data to create an interactive, publicly-available website, The Virome of Manhattan Project: Virome Data Explorer to visualize cohort characteristics, infection events, and illness severity factors.

Viral respiratory infections may lead to severe outcomes. However, better understanding of host response, host genetic makeup, and bacterial coinfections is required to develop effective therapeutics. In order to contribute to epidemiological research on factors contributing to disease severity, the researchers conducted a longitudinal cohort study, surveilling respiratory viruses for 19 months between 2016-2018 in New York City. They analyzed over 800 nasopharyngeal samples with clinical data, including self-reported symptoms from 214 participants. From these data, researchers created the Virome Data Explorer, a publicly-available database. Users can access cohort data to visualize and analyze changes and patterns in infections, symptoms, and illness outcomes.

While the database shares important cohort data related to infections, symptoms, and gene activity, the project has several limitations. Adults over the age of 65 were excluded from the cohort, even though according to the authors, respiratory viruses may lead to “extremely serious complications, particularly in infants, elders, and immunocompromised hosts.” Ages of children under 10 were not stratified, obscuring symptom and illness information specific to infants, another high-risk demographic. Vaccination status, immunocompromised conditions, and medicine uptake during infection course were also not among the data collected from study participants, which may limit the applications of the Virome Data Explorer.

According to the authors, “We present a cohort study, consisting of hundreds of samples, that depicts the transcriptional changes driven by respiratory viral infection. We have compiled these data to build a publicly-available, user-friendly web-based resource where any user can compare, longitudinally over the course of 19 months, patterns of viral positivity, symptomatology and transcriptomic changes for the individuals enrolled.”

The authors add, “This is a resource paper aiming at characterizing the host response to common and often asymptomatic viral respiratory infections. We collected and made available a 2-year longitudinal dataset including molecular data and symptoms records for over 100 participants from different age groups in NYC.”

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