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14 Dec, 2020 17:18

Scientists identify 8 specific genetic variants linked with severe Covid-19 infection in possible life-saving breakthrough

Scientists identify 8 specific genetic variants linked with severe Covid-19 infection in possible life-saving breakthrough

A new study of thousands of critical Covid-19 patients has revealed eight genetic sequences common to those who suffer life-threatening cases. This may lead to medications which could be the difference between life and death.

Most critical Covid-19 cases typically result from an inflammatory injury to either the lungs or blood vessels – or both – which can result in the body overreacting and creating a so-called ‘cytokine storm’, in which the patient’s own defenses work against themselves.

Researchers have now discovered at least some of the genes that play a key role in determining whether a patient is genetically predisposed to severe Covid-19 infection, as well as other respiratory viral infections such as influenza.

The scientists, led by the University of Edinburgh in the UK, examined the genetic profiles of 2,244 critically ill Covid-19 patients from 208 British intensive care units in a genome-wide association study (GWAS).

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These genomes were then compared against control genomes which were selected from the UK Biobank, with five controls per patient, all of whom were Covid-19-free. 

The GWAS turned up eight genetic sequences that were disproportionately represented in the severe Covid-19 patients' genetic profiles. The findings were validated using two independent population studies. 

The vast majority of the population have not had their genomes sequenced, so the findings may not have an impact on an individual level, but they could greatly assist the pharmaceutical industry in producing more effective treatments which may literally be the difference between life and death. 

“For example, the TYK2 gene is associated with the inflammatory responses that are known to cause the 'cytokine storm' that is responsible for the death of younger patients who contract [Covid-19],” said clinical senior lecturer David Strain of the University of Exeter and the British Medical Association, who was not involved in the research. 

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The research could help with the development of treatments which block the corresponding TYK2 receptor, which might prove crucial, as individuals susceptible to this 'cytokine storm' are lower down the priority list for Covid-19 vaccines. 

Furthermore, the rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib already targets TYK2, so clinical trials testing its efficacy in treating severe Covid-19 cases could take place relatively quickly.

Other existing drugs on the market could also undergo clinical trials relatively quickly, thanks to the work of the researchers.

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