Do you have a COVID-resistant gene? Scientists are looking for you
Some people ward off COVID despite being in close contact with infected persons; global research project seeks to study 1,000 such candidates
Are you COVID-lucky, in that no amount of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus — whether or not you mask up or maintain social distancing — gives you a bout of the disease? Researcher are keen to study you to save the rest of humanity.
A global team of scientists is on the lookout for people who are genetically resistant to the coronavirus. The aim is to identify the genes that give these persons the superpower, and develop virus-blocking drugs from those. This is expected to not only prevent fresh infection but also stem its spread.
A Perspective in Nature Immunology by Spaan and colleagues proposes a strategy for identifying, recruiting, and genetically analyzing individuals who are naturally resistant to SARS-CoV-2 infection. pic.twitter.com/TX2At3x1vO
— Nature Immunology (@NatImmunol) October 20, 2021
“The introduction of SARS-CoV-2 to a naive population, on a global scale, has provided yet another demonstration of the remarkable clinical variability between individuals in the course of infection, ranging from asymptomatic infections to life-threatening disease,” said a paper published in Nature Immunology.
“Our understanding of the pathophysiology of life-threatening COVID has progressed considerably since the disease was first described in December 2019, but we still know very little about the human genetic and immunological basis of inborn resistance to SARS-CoV-2,” said the paper. It is to fill this knowledge gap that the new research is being conducted.
The team of researchers — from 10 research institutes across the world — is led by immunologist Evangelos Andreakos from the Academy of Athens in Greece. The ideal candidates would be those who were exposed to the virus with minimal or zero protection, and yet did not catch the infection.
Sparking the research
What gives the researchers hope is the discovery, four years ago, of natural genetic resistance through a mutation to the malaria-causing Plasmodium vivax parasite. Further, there have been examples of households where all members except one have caught the COVID infection. There have also been instances of “people somehow avoiding COVID even after being in the line of fire multiple times”, according to the report.
Earlier, it was believed that your blood type could determine your resistance to COVID — group O was thought to be the most resistance. But none of it was scientifically proved.
The new research would call for 1,000 volunteers, of which around 400 have already been enrolled. The ideal candidates would be those who were free of infection despite having close physical interactions with a partner who suffered from COVID. These are called ‘discordant couples’, and are supposedly difficult to spot with proper evidence. Some do not have RT-PCR reports to prove their lack of infection, however mild, while others have already been vaccinated fully or partially.