Could blood type play a role in the severity of coronavirus infection certain patients experience? According to European researchers, the answer may be yes.
Research published in The New England Journal of Medicine in June suggested that people with type A blood have a higher risk of being infected with COVID-19 and developing severe symptoms.
What does this mean for the future of COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment?
The Role of Genetics in Coronavirus Infection
Since it first emerged in January, the coronavirus has proven itself to be an unpredictable disease. Many people infected with COVID-19 experience only mild illness or never suffer from symptoms at all. Others develop deadly respiratory failure that requires days or weeks of hospitalization. And, of course, more than 500,000 have lost their lives to the infection.
Such a wide range of disease manifestation has left scientists wondering why some people are hit so much harder by COVID-19 than others. Researchers in Europe tested their theory that part of the answer to this question can be found in genetics.
Led by Dr. Andre Franke from Christian-Albrecht-University in Kiel, Germany and Dr. Tom Karlsen from Oslo University Hospital in Norway, the research team analyzed the genes of more than 4,000 people to search for genetic variations shared by people who became infected with severe COVID-19.
Months of investigation led the researchers to uncover gene variants in two regions of the human genome that appear closely linked with severe COVID-19 and thus carry a greater risk of COVID-19-related death. One determines blood type and the other influences the function of the immune system. More importantly, they are both involved with a cell-surface protein called ACE2 that experts believe the coronavirus uses to gain entry into cells in the body.
Breaking It Down By Blood Type
Franke, Karlsen, and their team reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that the genetic patterns they observed led to two critical conclusions:
- The risk for severe COVID-19 is 45% higher for people with type A blood than those with other types of blood
- The risk for severe COVID-19 is 35% lower for people with type O blood
“The findings … provide specific clues as to what disease processes may be going on in severe COVID-19,” Karlsen explained.
The U.S National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins also shared his thoughts on the team’s discovery: “The hope is that these and other findings yet to come will point the way to a more thorough understanding of the biology of COVID-19.”
Now NIH research groups are launching their own studies to look for informative gene variants in thousands of COVID-19 patients across the United States and Canada. As Collins emphasized, “a genetic test and a person’s blood type might provide useful tools for identifying who may be at greater risk of serious illness.” If so, experts can more efficiently save lives, prevent infection and transmission, and help the world recover from this pandemic.