Morehouse School of Medicine and UnitedHealth Group Collaborate to Help Expand COVID-19 Research and Health Equity for Individuals with Sickle Cell

August 20, 2020 | 3 min Read
  • Study will assess COVID-19 risk and severity among individuals with sickle cell 

Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) have joined forces to determine if people with sickle cell trait are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and if the trait results in more severe cases of the disease. 

While the effects of COVID-19 have global implications, national mortality rates due to COVID-19 have disproportionately impacted African Americans and other communities of color compared to the overall population. Sickle cell trait involves a genetic blood disorder estimated to be present in 1 in 12 African Americans. There is little information to date on how COVID-19 infections affect individuals with sickle cell trait.

MSM researchers plan to enroll at least 300 adults who have sickle cell trait and are hospitalized at Grady Memorial Hospital for COVID-19. Individuals who agree to join the study will be asked to complete a survey, share their medical history and provide blood samples.  Researchers will evaluate participants and monitor progress through a series of medical visits, including a follow-up visit 30 days after discharge from the hospital. UnitedHealth Group Research & Development will serve as the co-principal investigators of the study; analyzing findings in collaboration with MSM researchers. Planning for this study commenced in early April and opened for participation in May. The research will continue for one year and preliminary results could be available within six months. 

“We are honored to continue our long-standing relationship with UnitedHealth Group in an effort to combat COVID-19 in underserved communities,” said Dr. Herman Taylor, professor of medicine and director of MSM’s Cardiovascular Research Institute. “Results from the study will help us understand the impact sickle cell trait has on the likelihood of a positive diagnosis and the severity of a COVID-19 infection and develop better monitoring and preventative strategies for infected and at-risk individuals.”

The collaboration between MSM and UnitedHealth Group underscores the organizations’ shared goal of promoting health equity and advancing an inclusive response to the community spread of COVID-19.

“We deeply appreciate our ongoing partnership with the Morehouse School of Medicine and remain intensely focused on supporting populations who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 through innovative, practical, real-world research studies,” said Deneen Vojta, executive vice president, UnitedHealth Group Research & Development.   

Since 2013, UnitedHealth Group has collaborated with MSM to improve health outcomes, and identify, monitor and reduce health disparities in underserved communities.

  • In October 2019, the United Health Foundation announced a three-year grant to MSM to improve access to and facilitate increasing use of digital tools and technologies for primary care providers and underserved patients across the Southeast, in order to improve outcomes, lower costs and enable a better overall patient experience.
  • The United Health Foundation and Optum, a UnitedHealth Group company, provided philanthropic support to help build health systems and health technology for tracking patient history and health outcomes for MSM’s Patient Centered Medical Home and Neighborhood Project (2013-2018).
  • In July 2019, UnitedHealth Group announced a partnership with the Atlanta University Center Consortium, which includes MSM, to train and prepare the next generation of data scientists.

About Morehouse School of Medicine

Morehouse School of Medicine, located in Atlanta, GA, exists to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities; increase the diversity of the health professional and scientific workforce; and address primary health care through programs in education, research, and service, with emphasis on people of color and the underserved urban and rural populations in Georgia, the nation, and the world. MSM is among the nation's leading educators of primary care physicians and has twice been recognized as the top institution among U.S. medical schools for its dedication to the social mission of education. The faculty and alumni are noted in their fields for excellence in teaching, research, and public policy, and are known in the community for exceptional, culturally appropriate patient care. Morehouse School of Medicine is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award doctorate and master’s degrees.

About UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is a diversified health care company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and helping to make the health system work better for everyone. UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two distinct platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services; and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services. For more information, visit UnitedHealth Group at or follow @UnitedHealthGrp on Twitter.