Scientists in gene study unravel mystery of what makes coronavirus so deadly

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Scientists may have unlocked the genetic secrets to Covid-19 and why some people are affected by the virus worse than others by identifying five genes that may make sufferers more susceptible to symptoms.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh examined DNA from 2,700 patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 from 208 intensive care units across the UK.

The subjects were those worst affected by the virus – with 22% of patients dying while suffering from the virus, and 74% of those studied requiring help to breathe through machines.

Scientists then compared the DNA of those in the study with 100,000 anonymous members of the public and discovered five genes in common with those worst affected by the virus.

It is now hoped that the research can be used to pinpoint the most effective drugs and treatments required by patients depending on their DNA.

The identified genes are known as TYK2, CCR2, OAS1, IFNAR2, and DPP9.

Dr Kenneth Baillie, who led the study, told the Daily Mail: "We predict that JAK inhibitors should confer benefit on [Covid-19] patients that should decrease the probability of them developing life-threatening lung inflammation.

"Our results immediately highlight which drugs should be at the top of the list for clinical testing. We can only test a few drugs at a time, so making the right choices will save thousands of lives.

"It's absolutely startling that we have seen this result so quickly after the start of the outbreak.

"This result took six months to find it but we don't have this level of biological insight into sepsis or influenza or other forms of critical illness that we see every year.

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"It's a really important kind of evidence, it's very strong causal evidence. It's a kind of evidence we have been crying out for in critical care medicine for decades and it is completely astonishing we have got it already for Covid."

The findings produced by the research have now been published in Nature Research Journals.

Of the identified genes, TYK2 is found on chromosome 19 in the human body and creates and enzyme that can lead to inflammation.

The scientists believed TYK2 can be treated using baricitinib – a JAK inhibitor used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

DPP9 is also found on chromosome 19 – however, the researchers do not yet know enough about the gene to understand what would be the best treatment for it but suspect the gene could lead to ‘long Covid’ symptoms.

CCR2 is found on chromosome 4 with the researchers identifying drugs already used to treat psoriasis as being effective in treating the gene.

OAS1 is found on chromosome 12 and is already known to be susceptible to other types of coronavirus – while treatment is not yet available.

And the IFNAR2 gene is found on chromosome 21 and is key to helping the body’s natural antiviral response identify that there is a virus that needs to be attacked.

The researchers found that the IFNAR2 gene can lead to the body’s immune system attacking itself if not treated early.

  • Coronavirus
  • Science

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