Scientists in Britain have identified a variant of a gene that could indicate an increased risk for lung failure and double the risk of death from COVID-19.
Oxford University researchers announced Friday their discovery. They believe it may explain why some people are more vulnerable to severe illness caused by the virus. The discovery could also lead to the development of more targeted treatments for the coronavirus.
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The research indicates that the lungs’ response to the virus is critical in how the body fights against it.
“The reason this has proved so difficult to work out, is that the previously identified genetic signal affects the ‘dark matter’ of the genome,” explained Jim Hughes, professor of gene regulation and co-lead on the study.
He said, “We found that the increased chance is not due to a difference between gene coding for a specific protein but because of a change in DNA that makes a switch that turns a gene on.” “It’s much harder to detect the gene which is affected by this kind of indirect switch effect.”
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Researchers found that approximately 60% of South Asian ancestry is at risk. This could be why the Indian subcontinent has suffered such severe devastation.
Only 15% of European ancestors carry the gene, while only 2% of Afro-Caribbean people have it.
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The artificial intelligence algorithm was used by the team to analyze a vast database of genetic samples from hundreds upon hundreds of cell types to identify the cells that affected the lungs.
“Surprisingly,” Dr. Damien Downes from the Hughes research team, said that the data showed that LZTFL1 is the cause.
The gene prevents cells in the lining of the airways and lungs from responding properly against the virus. However, it does not affect your immune system. This means that people with this gene should respond normally when given vaccines.
James Davis, another researcher, stated that although we cannot change our genes, our results show vaccines can be particularly beneficial for people with higher-risk genes. The vaccine should cancel out the higher risk because the genetic signal affects the lungs and not the immune system.
Source: Fox News