Researchers identify genes potentially affecting COVID-19 severity

July 2021

A study identifying possible causal genes for COVID-19 severity has been published in Genetics in Medicine , the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics . The study, led by University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center researcher Lang Wu, PhD, seeks to improve the understanding of molecular targets for COVID-19.

COVID-19 represents a huge public health burden in Hawaiʻi and the United States overall. Due to the major burden this infectious disease represents, there is a critical need to determine the genes influencing the severity in those who have been diagnosed with the disease.

“The fatality rate of COVID-19 is predominantly driven by patients with severe respiratory failure who are hospitalized,” said Wu. “Studying causal genes for severity can help in identifying drug targets that may be more effective than those we know of now.”

It is expected that many of the genes identified in this study will be related to severity of COVID-19 across different racial and ethnic groups. In Hawaiʻi, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Filipinos have been most adversely impacted by COVID-19. Pacific Islanders make up only four percent of the state’s population, but 24 percent of all COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 mortality rates are highest among Pacific Islanders, Filipinos, and Japanese. The study seeks to help guide future development of more effective treatments for those affected by the disease.

“Our discovery of novel putative causal genes associated with COVID-19 severity will allow us to better understand the biology and genetics of the disease and help guide drug repurposing efforts to reduce the burden of COVID-19,” said Wu.