How can the same disease affect one another so differently? Why are there people who contract a coronavirus infection and remain asymptomatic and others who, instead, become seriously ill and may even lose their lives for this reason? A year of pandemic , and scientific research on the front line , have shown that factors such as age or previous illnesses influence the severity of the patient.
Meanwhile, the great unknown continues to be those young and healthy patients who, despite everything, become seriously ill from covid-19. What, then, is the factor that determines your prognosis? The answer could lie in the chemical switches that regulate the expression of your genes. In its epigenetics.
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A new study led by researchers Manel Esteller and Aurora Pujol , and published this Thursday in the journal ‘EBiomedicine’, identifies three epigenetic factors that could predict the severity of the disease. That is, three keys that make the difference between those who fall ill as usual and those who develop serious clinical pictures.
“We have studied the genetic material of more than 400 covid-19 positive patients . All of these were healthy people, without comorbidities and under 62 years of age. Some of them contracted the infection with hardly any symptoms and others, on the other hand, ended up admitted and with respiratory assistance “, summarizes Esteller in statements to this newspaper.
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The analysis has been able to identify some 40 points of the genome that differentiate seriously ill patients . This, in turn, has been linked to three epigenetic factors. “The first factor has to do with the expression of genes that provoke a too strong immune response .
The second, with an excessive inflammatory response . And the third, with metabolic imbalances that also trigger diseases such as diabetes or obesity”, Illustrated by the director of the Institut de Recerca contra la Leucèmica Josep Carreras (IJC) and professor of genetics at the University of Barcelona (UB). These, then, would be the chemical switches that would trigger severe cases of covid-19.
An epigenetic signature present in 13% of the population
The study estimates that around 13% of the world’s population would have this epigenetic signature inscribed in their DNA. “This means that there is 13% of the population that, even being healthy, if one day contracts the virus will have a high risk of becoming seriously ill “, argues the scientist.
These figures coincide with what was observed during this pandemic, which in just one year has left more than 136 million people infected and almost three million deaths.
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“These findings can help us to identify a new risk group that, in case of illness, must be monitored more closely. They also open new avenues for the search for treatments against covid-19, ” says the scientist.
In this sense, the expert claims that drugs designed (and approved) to regulate the expression of genes , and that are already used in the treatment of leukemias, sarcomas and immunotherapies, could be used against the coronavirus.