Do Genetics Affect How Our Bodies Fight COVID-19?
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A listener wants to know what role genetics play in how well our body fights off the novel coronavirus.
A recent study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Virology suggests that they might.
Researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University and the Portland VA Research Foundation focused on genetic variations in human leukocyte antigens, or HLAs, which essentially act as a cell's alarm system.
When COVID-19 first takes over a cell, it's invisible to the rest of the body. But then HLA molecules will help grab pieces of that virus and push them out of the cell, where the body will say, "What's that? We have a problem."
But here's the rub: Some people's HLA types grab more chunks of the virus than others, according to study co-author Reid Thompson.
"We suspect that those differences in people could give rise to a better or worse capacity to handle things, at least in the early phases of infection," he says.
There are thousands of different HLA types and scientists haven't been able to analyze enough data to understand which ones make us more susceptible to the virus' ravaging effects.
"In my dream world, we would be doing HLA testing right alongside of COVID testing so that we'd have a better, quick study of how this genetic variability could be modifying disease," Thompson says. "But we don't have that data yet."
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.