Scientists from Oxford University have discovered a gene that might lead to a greater risk of suffering from lung failure. This gene is also believed to double the risk of dying from COVID-19!
The findings might finally explain why some COVID patients are more susceptible to developing a severe case of infection and could also lead to the development of some more targeted medications and treatments to fight off the virus.
As it turns out, the British researchers’ study shows that the way one’s lungs react to coronavirus infection is, in fact, critical in how someone’s body goes on to fight it off.
Professor of gene regulation and co-lead of the study, Jim Hughes, explained that “The reason that this has proved so difficult to work out, is the previously-identified genetic signal that affects the ‘dark matter’ of the genome. We found that the increased risk isn’t because of a difference in gene coding for a certain protein, but because of a difference in DNA that makes a switch to turn a gene on. It is much harder to detect the gene which is affected by this sort of indirect switch effect.”
The researchers also mentioned that about 60 percent of people of South Asian descent carry the high-risk variant, and this extremely high occurrence might finally explain why there’s been such a severe occurrence on the Indian subcontinent.
As for people with European ancestry, only around 15 percent of them carry the gene.
Finally, the lowest risk, 2 percent, is associated with those of Afro-Caribbean descent.
To reach this conclusion, the British team used an artificial intelligence algorithm to comb through a huge database of samples from hundreds of types of cells.
This way, they were able to isolate the action of cells affecting the lungs.
Dr. Damien Downes, who led the lab work from the Hughes research group, stated that “Surprisingly, as a few other genes were suspected, the data showed that a relatively unstudied gene called LZTFL1 causes this effect.”
This gene stops cells lining airways from reacting appropriately to the virus but does not affect one’s immune system as well, which means that those who carry this gene, not only will still respond to the vaccine in a normal, expected way, they might have some increased benefits.
Another member of the research team, James Davis, explained that “Although we can’t change our genetics, the results show that people with the higher risk gene are rather likely to particularly benefit from vaccination. Since the genetic signal only affects the lung rather than the immune system, this means that their increased risk should be canceled out by the vaccine.”