Scientists have discovered a gene that doubles the risk of respiratory failure and Covid-related death, which could explain why people of South Asian descent are more susceptible to the disease, according to a study published in the journal Genetics of nature.
The gene, which affects how the lungs respond to infection, is the main genetic risk factor discovered so far, and is carried by about 60% of people of South Asian descent compared to 15% of people. of white European origin. The discovery could help explain why parts of the UK are experiencing an increase in the number of deaths, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on the Indian subcontinent.
Professor James Davies, a geneticist in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study, told the Guardian that there is only one gene that endangers people of South Asian descent. Other scientists noted that the results need to be confirmed and that genetic explanations should not be used to rule out other potentially more serious socio-economic risk factors that ethnic minorities suffer from, such as occupational exposure and illness. unequal access to health care.
The Nature Genetics study on the COVID-19 gene
Based on the genetic sequencing of tens of thousands of hospital patients in the UK and other countries, the study expands on previous work that uncovered a huge chunk of DNA that appears to determine how badly people become seriously ill from COVID. The most recent research has focused on a single gene known as LZTFL1, which has been found to double the risk of respiratory failure and death.
The previously unknown gene has been discovered to function as a switch that activates a critical defense mechanism that inhibits the COVID-19 virus from infected lung epithelial cells. This reaction was suppressed in the high-risk form of the gene, implying that the virus would continue to infiltrate, infect and damage cells in the lungs for a long time after exposure. Davies noted that the findings could lead to new drugs that target the response of lung cells, according to The Guardian report. The majority of current treatments work by altering the immune system’s response to infection.
The findings can provide insight into why people in South Asia have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Compared with the general population, the risk of death was three to four times higher for people of Bangladeshi descent, 2.5 to three times higher for those of Pakistani descent, and 1.5 to two times higher for those of Pakistani descent. those of Indian origin in the second wave of England. Unlike the excess risk reported among blacks in the first wave, once socio-economic considerations were taken into account, there remained considerable unexplained risk in South Asian groups.
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