Genetic risk factor found behind severe COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s

October 11, 2021
Genetic risk factor found behind severe COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s

Researchers at University College London (UCL) have found a gene variant named OAS1 that leads to greater susceptibility to COVID-19; this gene is known to heighten one’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimer’s). One variant of the gene, dubbed rs1131454, was confirmed to increase a person’s baseline risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 22% by way of increased inflammatory activity in the body, and it is this action that plays a role in the progression of severe COVID-19.

According to UCL neurologist Dr. Dervis Salih, “extensive tissue inflammation” is characteristic to Alzheimer’s, as is the harmful build-up of protein and tangles in the brain. “We have found that some of the same immune system changes can occur in both Alzheimer’s disease and COVID-19. In patients with severe COVID-19 infection there can also be inflammatory changes in the brain,” Dr. Salih said.

[The findings of the UCL study agrees with much of what is known of the “cytokine storms” that are part of the severe stages of COVID-19.]

Dr. Salih has indicated that the UCL research team is currently investigating the possible role this gene variant could be playing in long COVID, or how it could be influencing some of the more acute neurological symptoms that can be associated with the disease.

Read: Researchers find dementia gene mutation doubles risk of severe COVID-19 infection

He additionally speculates that a simple blood test to distinguish [this] genetic variant could serve to identify early Alzheimer’s patients.

“If we could develop a simple way of testing for these genetic variants when someone tests positive for COVID-19, then it might be possible to identify who is at greater risk of needing critical care, but there is plenty more work to be done to get us there.

“Similarly, we hope that our research could feed into the development of a blood test to identify whether someone is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s before they show memory problems.”

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