Unique Gene Found In South Asian People Doubles Risk Of Covid Death Study Discovers

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  • Scientists have discovered a gene that doubles the risk of respiratory failure and death from Covid, which may explain why individuals of South Asian descent are more vulnerable to the condition.

  • The most recent research focused on a particular gene known as LZTFL1, which was shown to double the risk of respiratory failure and mortality.

  • The gene, which alters how the lungs react to infection, is the most major genetic risk factor found so far, and it is carried by around 60% of individuals with South Asian origin, compared to 15% of those with white European origin. 

Unique Gene Found In South Asian People Doubles Risk Of Covid Death Study Discovers

Scientists have discovered a gene that doubles the risk of respiratory failure and death from Covid, which may explain why individuals of South Asian descent are more vulnerable to the condition.

The gene, which alters how the lungs react to infection, is the most major genetic risk factor found so far, and it is carried by around 60% of individuals with South Asian origin, compared to 15% of those with white European origin. The discovery might explain some of the increased mortality recorded in certain populations in the United Kingdom, as well as the effect of Covid-19 in the Indian subcontinent.

Prof James Davies, a geneticist from Oxford University’s Radcliffe Department of Medicine and one of the paper’s senior authors, stated: “The genetic factor we have found explains why some people get very seriously ill after coronavirus infection … There’s a single gene that confers quite a significant risk to people of South Asian background.”

Other researchers noted that the results needed to be verified further, and that genetic factors should not be used to overshadow other possibly more substantial socioeconomic risk factors experienced by ethnic minorities, such as job exposure and unequal access to healthcare.

Based on genetic sequencing of tens of thousands of hospital patients in the UK and other countries, the research expands on prior work that discovered a large segment of DNA that appears to determine how seriously unwell individuals became from Covid. The most recent research focused on a particular gene known as LZTFL1, which was shown to double the risk of respiratory failure and mortality.

The previously unknown gene was found to serve as a switch to activate a critical defence mechanism that inhibits the Covid-19 virus from accessing epithelial cells that line the lung. This reaction was suppressed in the high-risk form of the gene, suggesting that the virus would continue to infiltrate, infect, and damage cells in the lungs for a longer length of time following exposure.

“Although we cannot change our genetics, our results show that the people with the higher-risk gene are likely to particularly benefit from vaccination,” Davies said.

“Since the genetic signal affects the lung rather than the immune system, it means that the increased risk should be cancelled out by the vaccine.”

source - nature

The results, according to Davies, also lead to the prospect of novel treatments that target the response of lung cells. The majority of current treatments operate by altering the immune system’s response to the infection.

The results might help explain why south Asian populations have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. In England’s second wave, ONS data revealed a three to four times greater risk of mortality for persons of Bangladeshi origin, 2.5 to three times higher for those of Pakistani origin, and 1.5 to two times higher for those of Indian origin compared to the general population.

Unlike the extra risk reported in black populations during the first wave, after socioeconomic variables were included, there remained a considerable unexplained risk among South Asian groups.

“[Genetic factors] would account for a large proportion of that,” Davies added.

source - the star

Raghib Ali of the University of Cambridge, an independent expert adviser on Covid-19 and ethnicity to the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit, stated: “This is an important study which contributes to our ongoing efforts to understand the causes of the higher death rates from Covid in some ethnic groups and specifically as to why their outcomes or survival from Covid are worse after infection.”

Others, though, advised caution. According to Nazrul Islam of Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, certain races are underrepresented in the huge genetic databases used to assess the frequency of specific genes such as LZTHL1.

“It provides an easy gateway for policymakers to say ‘it’s genetic, we can’t do anything’,” he added. “We have to be very careful in analysing the data, questioning it repeatedly, and how we disseminate the findings. It has profound social issues.”

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Genetics.

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