Elevated Risk of COVID-19 in Vitamin D Deficient Breast and Prostate Cancer Patients
Early into the pandemic, some researchers were speculating about links between vitamin D deficiency and contracting COVID-19. Understanding the potential link for at-risk populations was the driving motivation behind this research, which was presented at the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting. Vitamin D deficiency is easily detected and easily corrected. If vitamin D plays a role in the COVID-19 dynamic, then it makes perfect sense to explore that relationship in depth.
In the end, the research suggests patients with breast and prostate cancer may have an elevated risk of COVID-19 infection if vitamin D deficient. This conclusion does support earlier findings and further clinical study is still recommended. But our study underscores the importance of monitoring vitamin D levels across and within cancer populations.
Investigators were able to conduct this research through an innovative data environment, engineered through Medidata, a Dassault Systèmes company, called the COVID-19 Research Database. This consortium of data software vendors and data providers pooled their resources, pro bono, and made it available to everyone with a viable hypothesis. It is a unique environment and unique research experience, linking across data sets on a scale never seen before.
The research represents a huge potential public health impact. For example, some people feel vitamin D testing isn’t done as often as is needed in cancer patients to begin with. This research could lead to more supportive care needs for patients suffering from a variety of cancers.
From a technological perspective, demonstrating the capability to conduct this type of research, set up the environment, manage it, and scale it, in support of more than 250 researchers — all at the same time — is quite a feat. If it can be done for this health emergency, we know we can do it for the next one.
The COVID-19 database was created because of COVID-19 and our research is an example of just how fast we can gather data, even amidst a pandemic, and gain useful insights. Think about it: The consortium was created last summer, but the pandemic started over a year ago. We are assessing the data as it is generated. It’s pretty amazing. And for COVID-19 long-haulers, the data keeps coming in. As the nature of the questions shift over time, the environment adapts and nothing new is needed. The research goes on.
We’d like to thank all the authors: Aaron Galaznik, MD MBA, Emelly Rusli, MPH, Vicki Wing, MS, Rahul Jain, PhD, Sheila Diamond, MS CGC, and David Fajgenbaum, MD MBA MSc FCPP. We’d also like to thank the COVID-19 Research Database team, particularly David Graham, Director, Product Engineering, and Lev Zarakovich, Lead Software Engineer at Medidata, who were instrumental in the engineering of the database, as well as all the consortium partners, without whom this project could not have been conducted.