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Some people are unusually resistant to the new coronavirus, so scientists are looking for answers to what gives them that resistance, reports the BBC.
It started with the HIV virus
As a young man, Stephen Crohn could only helplessly watch as his friends began to die one after another from a disease that did not yet have a name at the time. When his partner, athlete Jerry Green, fell ill in 1978, Crohn was convinced that the disease would soon affect him as well. But despite expectations, Crohn remained healthy, even when Green went blind and paralyzed because the HIV virus had hit his immune system so badly. Immunologist Bill Paxton therefore started looking for homosexuals who were resistant to the infection in 1996 and found the reason - the resistance of white blood cells or leukocytes. Even in the laboratory, he could not infect Crohn's white blood cells with HIV. Crohn was among the percentage of the population with a gene mutation that prevents HIV from binding to the surface of white blood cells. Based on this finding, scientists have been able to develop a drug that mimics the effect of this mutation.
Blood group plays an important role
Even today, scientists are trying to develop drugs based on the imitation of gene mutations of resistant individuals to treat other diseases. Jason Bobe, a geneticist at Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, has spent most of the past decade studying people with unusual resistance to a variety of diseases, from borreliosis to heart disease. Already during the first wave of the covida-19 epidemic, he began to wonder if there were people who were resistant to the virus. He tried to find families where several members had symptomatic covid-19 and only one of them was asymptomatic. Bobe will now try to thoroughly research the genome of people showing signs of resistance to the new coronavirus and determine if there are certain mutations in it that protect them from the virus. Scientists have already found some possible explanations. They found that people with blood type 0 and RH negative blood type were less likely to have a severe course of the disease. Although some scientists believe that some people with certain blood types have naturally present antibodies in their bodies that can partially recognize the virus, they do not yet have solid evidence for this.
The 114-year-old also contracted Covid-19
114-year-old Mayana Zatz, director of the Human Genome Research Center at the University of Sao Paulo, is also trying to identify people who show high resistance to covid-19. Her research currently includes 100 couples in which one partner became ill and the other did not. "We are trying to find out why some people who are highly exposed to the virus do not get sick and do not develop antibodies - as it turns out, this is a fairly common occurrence," she told the BBC. Zatzova also analyzes the genome of twelve people a hundred or more years old who have been affected by the coronavirus only mildly, including a 114-year-old woman who she concludes is the oldest person in the world to have survived covid-19.
On the other hand, seemingly healthy people on fans
Qian Zhang, a geneticist at The Rockefeller University in New York, explained that with every infectious disease, there are people who can also become unexpectedly seriously ill, even though they are generally healthy. Severe problems can be caused by completely common viruses, such as herpes or the flu. At the start of the epidemic, the university was studying particularly unusual cases, such as seemingly perfectly healthy 30-year-olds who ended up on fans. Already at the beginning of the project, Zhang concluded what was causing such a response to the virus. As early as the 1960s, scientists discovered that our cells have a built-in t. i. an “alarm system” that alerts the body when attacked by a new virus. All cells receive a signal and devote themselves to preparing to fight the virus. However, due to certain mutations, in some people the cells do not respond properly and do not warn the body of the danger that threatens it.
“If there is no alarm, the virus spreads and multiplies rapidly in the body,” Zhang explained. Such mutations can also be present in young, otherwise healthy people. Research shows that covid-19 is similar.
Mutations and autoantibodies
In the study, researchers at The Rockefeller University compared 987 patients with covid-19 (under the age of 50 and over the age of 50 who had no associated disease) who also developed severe pneumonia from covid-19. And what exactly did they find out? About 3.5% had a major gene mutation that caused their body not to respond properly. Another 10 percent had t present in their body. i. autoantibodies that can attack their own cells and thus cause great damage. Therefore, scientists want to discover people who are more vulnerable and sensitive to covid-19, as well as other viruses, such as seasonal flu. Zhang explains that anyone known to have a gene mutation that impairs their response to interferon can be treated with type 1 interferons either as a preventative measure or at an early stage of infection. They are also working with blood banks around the world to find out how widespread autoantibodies to type 1 interferon are among humans.
If there are many people with such mutations, tests could be developed to determine which people are at greater risk for the infection.
Specific combination of genes impairs response
However, autoantibodies and mutations that directly block interferon account for only about 14 percent of abnormally sensitive patients. For the remaining 86 percent, geneticists believe their vulnerability stems from a network of genetic interactions that affect them directly when a virus attacks. "Few people have a hard time overcoming the disease due to a mutation in just one gene. Most patients follow a more complex model in which many genes work together, leading to susceptibility to the more severe form of Covid-19," Alessandra Renieri, a professor of genetics at the BBC, told the BBC. University of Siena.
Five genes that are more or less active than average
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh, however, studied the genomes of 2,700 patients from intensive care units across the UK and compared them to healthy volunteers. They found that people who are more susceptible to the more severe form of covida-19 have five genes associated with the interferon response and susceptibility to pneumonia, which are either more or less active than in the general population. “This combination means the virus spreads more easily throughout the body, making them more likely to suffer more severe lung damage,” said Erola Pairo-Castineira, a scientist who participated in the study. This knowledge is expected to change the way of treatment in future epidemics as well.
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