By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 08 March 2022 • 15:38
Is genetics the answer to dealing with Covid-19?
A research paper published in Nature suggests that genetics may be the answer to dealing with Covid-19, with 16 new genetic variances of the disease discovered.
The research led by Dr Kenneth Baillie, a Consultant in critical care medicine at the University of Edinburgh, sequenced the genomes of 7,491 Covid-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in the UK.
Researchers then compared their DNA with that of 48,400 people who had not been infected by the virus, plus the DNA of a further 1,630 people who had experienced a mild infection.
Those comparisons led to the identification of the genetic variants associated with admission to intensive care, including genes implicated in blood clotting, the immune system and the intensity of inflammation.
Prof Baillie said that the results confirmed the involvement of seven other genes that the team identified in earlier studies. Those studies contributed to the decision to test the rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib on Covid-19 patients, with the latest data showing that it reduced the death rate from a severe infection by about a fifth.
He continued saying that it demonstrated: “a proof of principle that we can find new treatments using genetics.”
Among the new variants identified is a small change in GM-CSF, a protein that helps to activate immune cells in the lungs after infection. A drug targeting this gene, otilimab, is being tested on people with Covid-19.
Prof Baillie said: “To have a genetic signal close to this gene gives us more confidence that this is a valid target.”
The paper goes on to explain that other variations in genes that control the levels of a central component of blood clotting, known as Factor VIII, is disrupted in the most common type of the inherited bleeding disorder haemophilia. Abnormal clotting in response to Covid-19 could result in reduced oxygen supply to critical organs.
Prof Baillie added: “These results explain why some people develop life-threatening Covid-19, while others get no symptoms at all. But more importantly, this gives us a deep understanding of the process of disease and is a big step forward in finding more effective treatments.
“It is now true to say that we understand the mechanisms of Covid better than the other syndromes we treat in intensive care in normal times, sepsis, flu, and other forms of critical illness. Covid-19 is showing us the way to tackle those problems in the future.”
Many researchers believe genetics to be the answer in dealing with many viruses including Covid-19, however many people still remain wary of the technology as they are vaccinations. Just how long off we are to having a solution that works and which is accepted by people around the world, is anyone’s guess.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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