The Potential Role of Genetic Factors in COVID-19 Response

The Potential Role of Genetic Factors in COVID-19 Response

Data from initial research indicates that blood type may influence one’s susceptibility to COVID-19. Scientists at 23andMe, a biotech giant, studied 750,000 people, including 10 000 patients that had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized. This was done in order to establish whether genetic data could provide insights into their condition. The data has not yet been formally peer-reviewed or published nor does the data indicate causation. But the preliminary statistics have highlighted some interesting trends.

Just Your Type

According to early analysis, it seems that people with blood type O may be less susceptible to COVID-19. In the statistical analysis they showed 9-18% less positive tests for COVID-19 than those with different blood types.

Examining individuals with higher probability of exposure to the virus, such as health care workers, 3.2% of type O individuals tested positive, 3.9% of type A individuals tested positive, 4% of type B and 4.1% of type AB tested positive. Data was then adjusted for age, sex, race, ethnicity, body-mass index and a number of other factors and blood type O showed to have slight but noteworthy “protective effective” against both acquiring COVID-19 and being hospitalized after infection.

This data analysis does not indicate causation. The link remains one of correlation and thus it is important to remember that these findings are not conclusive. However, other studies on the topic have been conducted or are in progress. Hospital patients in Wuhan, where the pandemic is believed to have started, showed that blood group A was associated with a higher risk of COVID-19 when compared to the other blood groups, whilst blood group O was associated with a lower risk. Additional studies in Spain and Italy, currently in pre-print, drew similar conclusions.

Genetic Mapping – Potential Answers

Why is the study of such things relevant? In short, it helps to understand how people with similar demographics develop different responses to infection. Or why one might or might not contract the virus at all. The answers may lie in genetics. Researchers across the globe are hard at work trying to discover exactly which genes might be having an influence.

The COVID-19 Host Genetic Initiative is a global programme created to shed light on the role host genetic factors have in the susceptibility and severity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic. Carlos Bustamante, PhD, a professor of genetics at Stanford University and a member of the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative states that, “There’s reason to believe – like with almost all other diseases we’ve tried to go after – that genetics will impact it to some degree.” Of course, once genes have been identified, the question will become how to translate the findings into treatments and improved outcomes for infected patients.

The human genome consists of an estimated 25,000 genes that might play roles in COVID-19 infection. Researchers are narrowing in on some key suspects using computer simulated models but only research in real people who have had COVID-19 can confirm any conjecture in this area.

These studies cannot conclusively indicate genetic associations, but they can contribute to other reports that link COVID-19, blood clotting and cardiovascular disease. More information, data, and study will slowly unravel clues as to which genes may be relevant in determining risk factors for the disease. Getting this information will be deep collaboration and communication within the scientific community.

Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment

Discoveries about the genetic roots of diseases, should they be established, could lead to improvements in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. With data about who is most prone to get the virus, based on genes, health professionals could possibly offer personalized advice about prevention. If a gene were to be responsible for sending otherwise healthy people to the intensive care unit, health providers could conceivably observe certain COVID-19 patients with heightened vigilance or provide additional preventive care after a positive test. When researchers discover a gene that can help or hinder a disease’s progress, they can try to find or develop drugs that turn up or shut down that gene’s activity. Indeed, genetic studies may be the key to creating personalized treatments and avoiding COVID-19’s most fatal consequences.


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Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. There are several ways to support research through the ANRF. Find out more and donate today.

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