Genetic research out of the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute has shed light on how serious COVID-19 infections can activate other health conditions.
The new research found that conditions including heart disease and Parkinson’s could be activated by the most severe cases of COVID-19 infection.
The researchers from Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland examined publicly available genetic data from 8,500 people who were hospitalised with COVID-19, some of whom died. They used computational methods to integrate the data with published research on genetic interactions.
The study, led by doctoral student Rachel Jaros, at the Liggins Institute, found the SARS-CoV-2 virus could activate both scientifically known health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and previously unknown health conditions including Parkinson’s. These conditions are likely to add to the burden of long-COVID.
In some cases, the heart disease or Parkinson’s may have been evident in the person before their COVID-19 infection but, in other instances, the virus may activate the conditions, says Professor Justin O’Sullivan of the Liggins Institute.
For the first time in this study, the scientists were able to map biological pathways linking the risk of severe COVID-19 infection with risk of certain health issues.
“While our analysis has confirmed many of the known genetic risk factors for severe or fatal COVID-19 infections, it also throws up new genetic risk factors,” says Professor O’Sullivan.
“Of great concern is the genetic risk for Parkinson’s. We know Parkinson’s went up dramatically in the years following the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic,” he says.
The genetic research published in Scientific Reports is expected to assist health practitioners and researchers develop therapies for long-COVID.
“The novelty of our study is that we have identified the mechanism that underlies the genetic links between COVID-19 infection and the observed comorbidities,” says Ms Jaros.
“We hope our research will help alleviate the burden of long Covid through shedding light on genetic interactions and biological pathways involved in serious cases,” Professor O’Sullivan says.
“If you target these conditions, then you can therapeutically reduce the impact of them going forward.”