Researchers at the University of Oxford believe to have identified a gene that doubles the risk of respiratory failure caused by COVID-19. The gene known as LZTFL1 appears to stop cells in the respiratory system to fight off SARS-CoV-2 properly. That’s the virus that causes COVID-19.
The new study, published in Nature Genetics, build on previous work that had identified DNA regions on chromosome 3 that doubled the risk of adults under 65 of dying from COVID-19. The team now explained which gene was creating the increase in risk and how.
“The genetic factor we have found explains why some people get very seriously ill after coronavirus infection. It shows that the way in which the lung responds to the infection is critical. This is important because most treatments have focussed on changing the way in which the immune system reacts to the virus,” the study co-lead Prof James Davies said in a statement.
The authors found that six in ten people with South Asian ancestry carried this gene, compared to 15 percent of white Europeans, and two percent of people with Afro-Caribbean ancestry. The genetic factor can explain some discrepancies in health outcomes between different ethnic groups but not all. For example, Black people in the UK are over four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white peers.
“Socioeconomic factors are also likely to be important in explaining why some communities have been particularly badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Professor Davies added.
While the risk factor is concerning, the team states just how crucial vaccination is to protect oneself and the rest of society against the virus.
“Although we cannot change our genetics, our results show that the people with the higher risk gene are likely to particularly benefit from vaccination. Since the genetic signal affects the lung rather than the immune system it means that the increased risk should be cancelled out by the vaccine,” Professor Davies concluded.