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Variant Tied to Lung Failure in COVID-19

Researchers in the UK have uncovered a gene variant linked to an increased risk of respiratory failure among COVID-19 patients, Reuters reports.

Previous genome-wide association studies implicated the 3p21.31 gene region in risk of lung failure in COVID-19 patients, and in a new study, a University of Oxford-led team homed in on a potential causal variant within that region. As they report in Nature Genetics, the researchers implicate rs17713054 as a risk allele, finding that it affects LZTFL1 expression and the regulation of the epithelial–mesenchymal transition. Signals associated with EMT have further been uncovered among lung biopsies from COVID-19 patients, suggesting that lung cells undergoing EMT, rather than immune cells, contribute to the 3p21.31 gene region-associated risk.

Reuters also notes that the risk allele identified appears to be present among 60 percent of individuals of South Asian ancestry, potentially accounting some of the worse COVID-19 outcomes seen among South Asian populations, even after controlling for some socio-economic factors. However, the Guardian points out that that estimate is based on an analysis of a database of 200,000 people, 85 percent of whom are of European ancestry. Because of this, the Guardian says it is difficult to know if the estimate is widely applicable.

It additionally argues that if it does hold that the risk variant is more common among individuals of South Asian ancestry, "this must not be used by policymakers to abdicate responsibility.