Could Genes Predict Risk of Dying From Coronavirus?

It doesn’t take a doctor to see that there is an increased risk of serious illness and death among individuals with pre-existing chronic health conditions such as lung or heart disease, diabetes, and more.

What is extremely surprising, though, is the number of deaths in young healthy individuals without chronic disease. It is outright disturbing and scary in fact. If you are like me, you’ve been wondering why some healthy people die of Covid-19, while others have no symptoms at all — from the exact same bug!

As a physician, this begs the question, could there be one or more genetic factors that predispose certain people, while sparing most others. But if our genes might make some of us more susceptible to COVID-19 — then which genes?

Geneticists around the globe have been asking this very question since March, and many prominent labs have been openly sharing their vast DNA databases. As of April, a project called the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, had already involved about 700 scientists and researchers worldwide, rushing to compare DNA data from pandemic victims to (literally) millions of existing human DNA profiles.

The goal is to identify differences in the DNA of those who did and those who did not fare well from the Coronavirus. Preventatively, this information could have the potential of revealing which of us need to isolate, take extra precautions, and which of us can get back to some semblance of what life used to be. Then, there is the great hope that such a discovery could lead to an effective treatment, either preventatively, or for active infection.

One example of a specific gene studied during the pandemic is called the ACE2 gene, which is needed in order for the virus to infect the lung. The ACE2 gene happens to be on the X-chromosome, which might help to explain why men seem to be more adversely affected than women. This discovery has recently led to some experimentation using the female hormone Estrogen, as well as drugs that block the male hormone Testosterone, and it has led to some speculation about the benefits or harms of using common blood pressure and prostate medications that inhibit the ACE system. Click here to read more about this.

The COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative posts their results periodically and publishes their meeting agendas as well. Some scientists project that a clearer picture of the underlying genetics may emerge by mid-to-late summer. Though it seems like a long road of ahead of us, a critically important discovery could emerge any day, and there are quite a few very promising immunization projects underway.

I contend that hope is a powerful tool for remaining positive and productive during these times of intense negativity and polarization. Like everything else, ‘this too shall pass’ and we will emerge stronger and more resilient.

For more general information about Covid-19 check out our Covid-Page.

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Dr. Justin Groode | Patient Advocate Alliance LLC