In connection with a recent interview for a Swedish newspaper about the world-leading birth cohort BAMSE, Capitainer had the opportunity to speak with Anna Zettergren, a PhD candidate in environmental epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden, who is also a participant in the BAMSE study.
The BAMSE (Swedish abbreviation for Children, Allergy, Milieu, Stockholm, Epidemiology) study is an ongoing longitudinal, population-based prospective birth cohort including 4,089 children born between 1994 and 1996 in Stockholm, Sweden. The cohort, which was initiated and is led by researchers at KI, was initially designed to study risk factors for asthma, allergic diseases, and poor lung function in childhood, and to study factors of importance for the prognosis of already established diseases.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at KI started to investigate how immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus developed in young adults and assessed the importance of different risk factors for COVID-19 disease. In particular, the researchers studied the role of environmental factors such as air pollution exposure, lifestyle factors including smoking and obesity, as well as immunological and genetic factors. They also investigated the consequences of having had COVID-19 on immune system function, lung function and lung disease, as well as quality of life and occurrence of mental illness.
Data collection for the COVID-19 study took place in three stages. The researchers used Captainer’s microsampling solution for home sampling to detect antibodies against coronavirus and biomarkers, alongside web surveys and clinical examinations. In total, almost 2000 participants have used Capitainer’s microsampling solution and home-sampling for the study, and Anna Zettergren is one of them.
We spoke with Anna about what it was like to use Capitainer’s quantitative dried blood spot fingerprick device, and about her ongoing research.
-How did you come to be a participant in the BAMSE cohort when you were a newborn?
My parents were asked to be enroled in the BAMSE study when I was born and they accepted right away. My mom has told me that it was an easy decision, since it was an obvious opportunity to contribute to research that could improve health of others in the future.
-Can you tell us about your own current research?
Yes, I am currently doing my PhD project within BAMSE, where I study tobacco exposure from foetal life to adulthood and various aspects of health, including lung function, allergy and cardiovascular health. I think that being a participant of the BAMSE project opened up my eyes to epidemiological research and the many advantages of working with a birth cohort.
-What personal benefits have you experienced by participating in BAMSE?
In my personal life it has been a nice way of monitoring my health. The clinical examinations in BAMSE have included measurements of body composition, blood pressure and lung function, which are all things that I think most people my age do not check up on unless they get sick.
As a researcher, it has been incredibly useful to be able to have the perspective of the study participant in my project. I have a unique sense of the data collection in BAMSE and being a participant has also been useful when trying to put study results in perspective of public health for young adults or my peers.
-In your opinion, what are the benefits of microsampling in the home, as compared to venous blood draw in the clinic?
I think microsampling is a great step forward in clinical research. On the one hand it means that we as researchers do not need to account for practical issues like hiring nurses to take blood samples and managing a clinic. For the people taking the microsamples, it also means that they do not have to travel to a clinic and maybe take time off from work. Microsampling also causes less discomfort compared to a venous blood sample.
Personally, I do not like having blood samples taken and have had to prepare a lot in order to relax for venous blood samplings in the past, so I prefer microsamples.
-Was it easy to do the fingerstick test on yourself at home? How was the experience?
It was very easy with the instructions we were given. Although pricking your finger does hurt a little, it’s only for a moment, and much less painful than a normal blood sample. Still, I can imagine that some people would have issues pricking themselves.
-Would you recommend others to participate in clinical trials that involve fingerprick testing?
Yes, I would. It is an easy way to contribute to science and a small investment of time and effort for what could become important research findings, and in the long run improve the health of many.
-Do you think that fingerstick blood testing can be useful in healthcare and research?
Yes. When possible, it is both time- and money-saving, and probably means that more people can participate in a clinical trial when they can do sampling in their homes.
-Any particular applications/areas where you think it can be beneficial, that come to your mind?
For research projects where participants are invited to answer questionnaires it would be relatively easy to additionally include a home microsampling kit, which could add a lot to the study. I think that microsampling could become very useful in primary health care as well, where quick and easy blood samples are needed.