Luther College and Mayo Clinic examine COVID-19 risk factors

In order to study and better understand COVID-19, Luther College Professor of Psychology Loren Toussaint and Mayo Clinic have published a COVID-19 study of risk factors. The study is based on a patient sample of more than 1,100 adults who tested positive at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester, Minnesota or Mayo Clinic Health System between January 1 and May 23, 2020. These patients have shared their medical information with the intention of providing researchers with data to study COVID-19 outcomes. 

"Patient samples like this are invaluable in health and medical research," said Toussaint. "This type of sample allow scientists to clearly characterize patients on key clinical variables such as geography, sex, race, age and severity. In the case of COVID, we know so little that it is important to be able to really carefully control for extraneous variables that might confound our understanding of the disease, and patient samples like this one help to do that."

Toussaint worked alongside several Mayo Clinic doctors to examine this sample of patients including Dr. Sanjeev Nanda, Dr. Ann Vincent and Dr. Ivana T. Croghan among others. 


The sample

            "There are so many research questions that can be addressed with a well-characterized patient sample," said Toussaint. "The biggest advantage of this particular patient sample is its early development and assessment and prevalence of underlying conditions."

14 conditions are recorded in the data including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, cancer, diabetes and abnormally high cholesterol. This information will help researchers investigate questions of risk and vulnerability to COVID-19-related adverse outcomes. 

A description of the sample can be found here

Initial research

Early research based on this patient sample is a study published by Toussaint with Mayo Clinic partners titled "Body Mass Index, Multi-Morbidity, and COVID-19 Risk Factors as Predictors of Severe COVID-19 Outcomes." The purpose of this study was to investigate the risk factors associated with severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Findings include:

·       A COVID-severity screening tool was an important predictor of adverse COVID outcomes. 

·       A clear risk factor identified was older age.

·       Surprisingly, obesity was not identified as a factor contributing to severe COVID-19 outcomes. 

·       Having two or more long-term health conditions may be related to severe COVID-19 outcomes and multimorbidity is common in older age. 

"We found that a COVID-severity screening tool was an important predictor of adverse COVID outcomes. More research will definitely need to be done to examine this screening tool more carefully. Identifying patients at high risk of adverse outcomes of COVID as early as possible would be of great utility worldwide in helping to most efficiently and effectively treat patients with the disease," said Toussaint. 

The risk factors study can be found here.

Toussaint's role

As a seasoned researcher, Toussaint made it a priority to support this project. "As the world was busy responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the needs of patients, my colleagues and I knew that we had to be gathering data to better understand this disease that was spreading so rapidly," he said.

Nanda and Vincent conceptualized the project, and they coordinated with Toussaint in data analysis and writing papers that were based on this unique patient sample. 

"I am honored to be in collaboration with my esteemed colleagues at Mayo Clinic on this important work to better understand COVID, and I am grateful that Luther embraces such endeavors. Luther has many collaborations with world-class research institutions and supports faculty and students in pursuing pressing matters such as these."

About Luther College

Luther College is home to more than 1,800 undergraduates who explore big questions and take action to benefit people, communities and society. Our 60+ academic programs, experiential approach to learning and welcoming community inspire students to learn actively, live purposefully and lead courageously for a lifetime of impact. Learn more at luther.edu

Courtesy of Mayo Clinic
Dr. Loren Toussaint