A study conducted on more than 49,000 people provides new evidence on why some people get sick after having contact with the virus.
The Woman Post | Catalina Mejía Pizano
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According to the results, DNA would determine the probability of getting COVID-19 or become very ill if they acquired the infection.
It is no secret that scientists have been trying to understand the reasons why some people develop severe COVID-19 symptoms while others don’t. Socio-economic reasons, as well as underlying medical conditions, play an important part in the severity of the symptoms of the virus but they are not the only ones. According to Nature, members of the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, 13 locations in the human genome are linked to the probability of getting the infection and developing severe symptoms.
The mentioned study included a team of approximately 3,300 researchers in 25 countries. It includes data from 46 studies, including more than 49,000 individuals with COVID-19 and 2 million control individuals. To find genetic variants linked to COVID-19 risk and severity, the research was done in two steps. First, the authors compared the difference in the frequencies of genetic variants among people infected with COVID and the control group. To increase the statistical power of the study, they then combined the results from all 46 studies.
The study seems to suggest that there are 13 variants, associated with an elevated risk of infection with COVID-19 or a higher probability of severe illness, as reported by Nature. One of their key findings was the confirmation of a genetic relation between blood type and the probability of getting the infection. The study revealed that people with an O blood type are slightly protected.
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The study also suggests that a variant that disables the TYK2 gene, increases the risk of severe illness, including hospitalization. That variant is widely known to be protective against autoimmune diseases, but it makes people more prone to suffer from tuberculosis. Another finding revealed by the study, confirms that there is a variant in a gene called FOXP4, linked with more severe COVID infection. That variant had also been associated previously with lung cáncer and interstitial lung disease. Hence, inhibitors of the gene FOXP4, could help people in their recovery from COVID-19 or even prevent them from acquiring the disease.
It is worth highlighting that the disease-associated gene was found more frequently among Asians and Latinos in the Americas. The percentage of individuals with European ancestry that carry the gene is very low at 2 to 3%. However, 7% of the population in the Middle East carries the gene, as well as 32% of East Asians and 20% of Latin Americans.
One of the limitations of the study was that approximately 80% of the participants were of European Ancestry, hence, future studies would benefit from including various participants of other ancestry groups to make sure that the results apply to non-Europeans. However, the results of the study are vital for obtaining a deeper understanding of COVID-19 as well as the biological mechanisms that determine immune responses to infections.