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Identification of genetic risk factors for severe COVID-19

Identification of genetic risk factors for severe COVID-19

In March 2020, thousands of researchers around the world joined forces to answer the question why some COVID-19 patients develop severe, life-threatening illnesses while others deal with mild or no symptoms. A comprehensive compilation of their findings so far has been published in the journal nature. The findings, which were based on analyzes of nearly 50,000 patients, revealed 13 genetic risk factors that are closely associated with serious disease.

Why do some people get seriously ill with COVID-19? In addition to risk factors such as age and diabetes, part of the explanation lies in the fact that we carry different genetic variants that affect our risk of developing severe disease in COVID-19. A large number of patients are required to map genetic risk factors. Therefore, called a global effort COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative at the beginning of the epidemic. The initiative currently covers more than 61 studies from 25 countries. Researchers from Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University are included in the Swedish study SOCOFIED, with genetic data from about 300 individuals admitted to the intensive care unit.

The results of this major international collaboration demonstrate the power of genetic studies to learn more about infectious diseases. We can use genetics to better understand COVID-19, says Hugo Zeberg, a researcher in the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet who led the Swedish part of the project.

Researchers have identified 13 genetic regions closely associated with severe SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 infection. The next step is to understand why specific genetic variants cause more severe disease. Among the newly identified risk factors are genetic variants already known to be associated with lung cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, as well as genetic variants that are important in our defense against infectious diseases.

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The genetic findings give us important knowledge that opens the way for future treatments for patients with severe Covid-19 disease, says Michael Holström, a physician and researcher at Uppsala University who has worked to collect genetic data from Swedish patients.

Two genetic risk factors were more common among patients of East Asian or South Asian ancestry than among patients of European ancestry, underscoring the importance of collecting genetic data from different parts of the world. The pandemic has led to intense collaboration between researchers from all over the world, enabling large-scale genetic analyzes to be performed.

– That shows how good the science is – How much faster things go and how much we find out when we work together, comments Andrea Gana, researcher at the University of Helsinki and founder of the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative.

The analyzes also show that there is a possible causal relationship between factors such as smoking, a higher body mass index (BMI) and the risk of severe COVID-19 infection.

the post: Mapping the human genetic architecture of COVID-19.. COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative (Andrea Ganna and others), nature, online July 8, 2021, two: 10.1038/s41586-021-03767-x.

For more information please contact:
Hugo Seiberg, Assistant Professor
Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Tel: 0730-61 60 69
[email protected]

Karolinska Institute It is one of the world’s leading medical universities with a vision to drive the development of knowledge about life and work towards better health for all. In Sweden, Karolinska Institutet accounts for the largest share of medical academic research and has the largest range of medical education. Each year, the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet nominates Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine.