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Scientists discovered specific genes causing severe illness of COVID-19
Scientists discovered specific genes causing severe illness of COVID-19. Why are some people infected with the COVID-19 virus without symptoms while others are critically ill? This is one of the biggest puzzles of this epidemic. This was answered on the BBC website on December 11.
According to a paper published in the British weekly “Nature”, a study of more than 2,200 intensive care patients found that the answer may lie in specific genes. They make some people more prone to severe symptoms of COVID-19 pneumonia.
The results of this study reveal where the immune system is going wrong, which may help determine new treatments.
Dr. Kenneth Bailey, a consultant doctor at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, said that although vaccines are under development, new treatments are still necessary. He is the head of the Genomicc research project “Intensive Care Susceptibility and Mortality Genetics”.
Scientists studied the DNA of patients in more than 200 intensive care units of hospitals in the UK.
They scanned everyone’s genes. Genes contain instructions for every biological process, including how to fight viruses.
Then, they compared their genome with the DNA of healthy people to find genetic differences, and finally found the gene numbered TYK2.
Bailey explained: “It’s part of the system that infects immune cells.”
But if this gene is defective, the immune response will be excessive, putting the patient at risk of damaging lung inflammation.
A class of anti-inflammatory drugs that have been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases target this biological mechanism, including baritinib.
Bailey said: “This makes it very promising as a new treatment. Of course, we also need to conduct large-scale clinical trials to find out whether this is true.”
Genetic differences also appear in the two genes DPP9 and OAS. The former causes inflammation and the latter can help prevent the virus from replicating itself.
Scientists also discovered that there are mutations in the IFNAR2 gene in intensive care patients. IFNAR2 is related to a powerful antiviral molecule called interferon, which helps the immune system to activate as soon as it detects an infection.
It is believed that too little interferon production will give the virus an early advantage, allowing it to replicate quickly, leading to aggravation of the disease.
Two other studies recently published in Science Weekly also mentioned the association between interferon and cases of COVID-19 pneumonia, some through gene mutation, and some through autoimmune diseases that affect interferon production.
Jean-Laurent Casanova, a professor at Rockefeller University in the United States who conducted this study, said: “In our research subjects all over the world, nearly 15% of severe cases of COVID-19 pneumonia are caused by interferon.”
Interferon can be administered as a treatment, but a clinical trial by the World Health Organization concluded that it is not helpful for critically ill patients. However, Professor Casanova believes that timing is important.
He explained: “I hope that interferon will work in the first 2, 3, and 4 days after infection, because it basically provides molecules that the patient cannot produce.”
Vanessa Sancho-Shimizu, a geneticist at Imperial College London, said that these gene discoveries have allowed people to understand the biological characteristics of COVID-19 pneumonia as never before.
She said: “This is indeed an example of precision medicine. We can really confirm when there is a problem in a person’s body.”
She said: “The results of these genetic studies will help us identify specific molecular pathways as targets for therapeutic intervention.”
But there are still some mysteries in the genome.
Genomicc’s research-and several other studies-found that a group of genes on chromosome 3 are closely related to severe illness, but the biological principles are still unknown.
Next, scientists will invite more patients to join this study.