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Is There a Genetic Pre-disposition to die of Covid-19?

Posted on | March 30, 2020 | 3 Comments

Mike Magee

As Donald Trump learned when he was forced finally to declare bankruptcy on his Atlantic City Trump Taj Mahal Casino, and as our second President, John Adams, said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Thus, without apology and as wide-eyed with faux-surprise and “Who knew?” bewilderment as ever, Trump was forced to acknowledge that continued denial on his part could result in over two million deaths.

In contrast, a number of brilliant scientists from around the world have been questioning their original assumptions that Covid-19 was primarily a threat to those over 70, immunocompromised or with existing co-morbid conditions. The reason for their uneasiness is the observation that some younger adults (and recently a child under age 1) who appeared healthy in every way, have become very, very sick – and in a significant number of cases, died from the virus. And as scientists do, they asked, “Why?”

As Science magazine reported this week, “COVID-19, caused by the new pandemic coronavirus, is strangely—and tragically—selective….Researchers are now gearing up to scour the patients’ genomes for DNA variations that explain this mystery.”

What are the genetic suspects so far.

1. The cell surface protein angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2): A variant of the gene controlling this protein can make it easier for the virus to penetrate respiratory cell walls.

 2. The human leukocyte antigen genes: These genes control the bodies immune response to viruses and bacteria.

The researchers around the world are just getting started, but they aren’t starting from scratch. There are enormous genomic databanks already in existence seeded by volunteer DNA donations, and funded by private institutes and governments around the world. These include:

Geneticist Andrea Ganna of the University of Helsinki’s Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), with funding from U.S. based Broad Institute, which has created the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative and is pooling a group of DNA databases worldwide. Their goal is to cross-match those who have become severely ill or died from the disease against the genomes of those who have not, hunting for genetic vulnerabilities.

FinnGen, has collected DNA samples and health data for 5% of the 5 million–person Finnish population

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is contributing its 50,000-participant biobank.

The UK Biobank, with DNA data on 500,000 participants, has announced it is adding COVID-19 health data.

deCODE Genetics, with testing in broad use in Iceland, has genome and health data on half of Iceland’s 364,000 inhabitants, and is now adding new coronavirus results.

Harvard University’s Personal Genome Project, which has recruited people willing to share their full genome for research, received 600 positive responses in 48 hours when they sent questionnaires to participants, asking about their COVID-19 status.

11 Italian hospitals have signaled their intent to give ethics approval to a University of Seina genetics team to collect DNA samples from willing Covid-19 patients.

Pediatrics researcher Jean-Laurent Casanova at the Rockefeller University is tapping into their global network, and collecting DNA samples on Covid-19 pediatric ICU patients. 

Two weeks ago, President Trump declared “I don’t take responsibility at all.” He has spent the last fourteen days shifting blame and setting state governors and his political rivals up for a fall. Fine, we get it.

But it’s important for you to know that he is an outlier. Many, including frontline nurses and doctors and caring professionals are stepping up – and researchers around the world are doing their best as well.

We can’t waste any time and energy right now on this President. Use your prayers and blessings and support for those who really care about our future.

Comments

3 Responses to “Is There a Genetic Pre-disposition to die of Covid-19?”

  1. Bionaze
    March 30th, 2020 @ 7:30 pm

    This piece is on research being done to try to understand who is most susceptible to COVID-19 infections and deaths. It’s not necessarily who you might think.

  2. Kristin
    April 7th, 2020 @ 8:44 pm

    Science is not political…. this article is shameful. People are worried about this virus not looking for your hatred for Trump.

  3. Mike Magee
    April 8th, 2020 @ 9:40 am

    As I say in this piece, “Facts are stubborn things.”

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