Researchers Discover Gene Linked To Higher Risk Of COVID Complication
British scientists have identified a gene that may indicate an increased risk of lung failure, doubling the possibility of death from COVID-19.
Researchers at Oxford University released data Friday, saying that it may explain why some people are more likely than others to suffer a more severe case of the virus. Researchers are optimistic that the discovery could potentially lead to the development of more specific treatments to fight the coronavirus.
The research indicates that the way the lungs respond to the virus is critical when it comes to how the body fights against it.
“The reason this has proved so difficult to work out, is that the previously identified genetic signal affects the “dark matter” of the genome,” explained Jim Hughes, professor of gene regulation and co-lead on the study.
“We found that the increased risk is not because of a difference in gene coding for a protein, but because of a difference in the DNA that makes a switch to turn a gene on,” he said. “It’s much harder to detect the gene which is affected by this kind of indirect switch effect.”
Approximately 60% of people of South Asian ancestry carry the high-risk variant, this may play a part in the severe devastation that has been seen in the Indian subcontinent.
Only 15% of people with European ancestry carry the gene and only 2% of people of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Researchers used an artificial intelligence algorithm to comb a tremendous database of genetic samples from hundreds of types of cells to isolate the action to cells that affect the lungs.
“Surprisingly, as several other genes were suspected, the data showed that a relatively unstudied gene called LZTFL1 causes the effect,” said Dr. Damien Downes, from the Hughes research group.
The gene prevents cells lining the airways and the lungs from effectively responding to the virus, it does not however affect the immune system. Therefore people carrying this gene should respond positively to the vaccines.
“Although we cannot change our genetics, our results show that the people with the higher-risk gene are likely to particularly benefit from vaccination,” said another researcher, James Davis. “Since the genetic signal affects the lung rather than the immune system it means that the increased risk should be cancelled out by the vaccine.”