20/05/2022 | Press releases

Genes impact our body’s response to COVID-19 according to research

Our genes play a huge part in our health – but new research has revealed they’re also responsible for how our bodies respond to the COVID-19 virus.

Researchers at ESNEFT have been part of a clinical trial to see whether a patient becomes seriously ill with the virus because of their genetic makeup.

Patients were asked to give either a blood or saliva sample as part of the GenOMICC trial (Genetics of Susceptibility and Mortality in Critical Care).

Bally Purewal, clinical research practitioner
Bally Purewal, clinical research practitioner

Bally Purewal, clinical research practitioner at Ipswich Hospital, said: “The trial has helped develop more targeted treatments for those with COVID-19, and has helped increase our knowledge and understanding of why some people develop life-threatening COVID-19, while others only experience mild symptoms.”

The study, which was part of a wider trial led by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Genomics England, explored the connection between our genes and our likelihood of becoming severely ill. It’s the world’s largest study of the genetics of COVID-19 with more than 57,000 patients taking part, some who hadn’t had COVID-19, some who had it mildly and some who were severely ill.

Patients were recruited for the research from 224 intensive care units across the country, including Colchester and Ipswich hospitals. Eighty-seven patients took part from Ipswich and 44 from Colchester Hospital.

Sample kit sent to patients participating on the GenOMICC trial
One of the sample kits sent to patients

Once all the samples were collected from patients in intensive care, then the sequencing of the genomes of those 7,491 patients were compared to the DNA of 48,400 people who hadn’t had COVID-19 and 1,630 people who had experienced it mildly.

The research found that 16 new genetic variants associated with severe COVID-19, including some related to blood clotting, immune response and intensity of inflammation. It was also found that there’s a single gene variant that disrupts a key messenger molecule in immune system signaling – called interferon alpha-10, and this is enough to increase a patient’s risk of severe disease.

Alison Ghosh, clinical research practitioner
Alison Ghosh, clinical research nurse

Alison Ghosh, clinical research nurse at Colchester Hospital, said: “It’s been a really exciting study to be a part of at ESNEFT. Our role was very much in sample collection from patients. Everyone was very happy to be involved to help inform us about COVID-19 and in turn the potential treatments that may be more effective for certain patients.”

The University of Edinburgh research experts said the findings will act as a roadmap for future efforts. They added: “It will open new fields of research focused on potential new therapies and diagnostics with pinpoint accuracy.”

The findings have been published in Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04576-6

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