In a study from the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité, scientists found genes and proteins that contribute to a higher risk of severe COVID-19.
The finding explains why some people suffer more from COVID-19 than others.
A large number of people are currently contracting COVID-19. Fortunately, most of them are experiencing only mild symptoms, largely thanks to the high vaccination rate.
However, in some individuals, the disease takes a much more severe trajectory, and our understanding of the underlying reasons is still insufficient.
The human genome may hold a key to why COVID-19 is more serious for some people than others.
In the study, the team identified genes that—in addition to known risk factors such as age and sex—predispose people to experience a more serious infection.
They analyzed genetic data that researchers had collected from COVID-19 patients worldwide, which also included disease severity.
The team had previously developed a “proteogenomic” approach to link protein-encoding regions of DNA to diseases via the protein product.
They applied this method to COVID-19 and came across eight particularly interesting proteins in this study.
One of these was a protein responsible for an individual’s blood group. This gene was associated with the risk of infection.
The protein ELF5, meanwhile, seemed like it could be much more relevant. The team found that COVID-19 patients carrying a variant in the gene that encodes ELF5 were much more likely to be hospitalized and ventilated, in some cases even died—so we took a closer look.
The team found that ELF5 is present in all surface cells of the skin and mucous membranes, but is produced in particularly large quantities in the lungs. Since this is where the virus causes most of its damage, this seemed very plausible.
The scientists also identified another interesting candidate among the eight suspects: the protein G-CSF, which serves as a growth factor for blood cells.
They found that COVID-19 patients who genetically produce more G-CSF tend to experience a milder disease course.
Synthetic G-CSF has been available as a drug for a long time, so its use as a treatment for COVID-19 patients could be conceivable.
Translation of such genetic discoveries into clinical application is not an easy or rapid process.
The work highlights how open science and an international team effort can uncover how the smallest changes in our genetic make-up alter the course of the disease, COVID-19 in this example.
If you care about COVID, please read studies about face mask that can capture and deactivate COVID-19 virus, and this drug combo may treat COVID-19 effectively.
For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about the biggest risk factors for COVID-19 death, and results showing this cancer drug may lower death risk in people hospitalized in COVID-19.
The study was conducted by Maik Pietzner et al and published in the journal Nature Communications.
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