The Isle of Wight NHS Trust research team has supported the world’s largest study into the genetics of critical COVID-19.

The study involving more than 57,000 people worldwide has revealed new details about some of the biological mechanisms behind the severe form of the disease.

Researchers from the GenOMICC (Genetics of Mortality in Critical Care) consortium – a global collaboration to study genetics in critical illness – led by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Genomics England, made the discoveries by sequencing the genomes of 7 491 patients from 224 intensive care units in the UK.

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Professor Kenneth Baillie, Consultant in Critical Care Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“Our latest findings point to specific molecular targets in critical Covid-19. These findings explain why some people develop life-threatening COVID-19, while others have no symptoms. But more importantly, it gives us a deeper understanding of the disease process and is a big step forward in the search for more effective treatments.

“It is now true to say that we understand the mechanisms of Covid better than the other syndromes that we treat in intensive care in normal times – sepsis, influenza, and other forms of serious illness. Covid-19 shows us the way to solve these problems in the future.

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Dr Gabor Debreceni, anesthesia and critical care consultant at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said:

“The GenOMICC study compares the genomes of critically ill patients with population controls to find the underlying mechanisms of disease.

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“Our intensive care unit began enrolling patients in this study from May 2020 and the last patient was recruited in September 2021. A total of 59 of our patients participated, which is an incredible achievement from the small Research Team.

“Members of the St. Mary’s Hospital team, including Dr. Alexander Moss, Dr. Azra Khatun, Dr. Luke Sylvester, Dr. Henry Barrington-White and Nurse Consultant Vikki Crickmore, have been instrumental in obtaining consent and enrolling patients in this project.

“In addition, research nurses Joy Wilkins and Alison Brown, with the support of research officer Sarah Knight, tirelessly collected the blood samples and worked on the forms, which is the most laborious part of the study.

“Everyone involved has gone the extra mile to support this study despite the challenges encountered at the height of the pandemic and as a result many drug developments have been initiated which will hopefully contribute to the successful treatment of COVID-19 in the future.”

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The DNA of participating island patients was compared to 48,400 others who had not had COVID-19, participants in Genomics England’s 100,000 Genomes Project and 1,630 others who had experienced mild COVID .

Determining the entire genome sequence for all study participants allowed the team to create an accurate map and identify genetic variation related to COVID-19 severity. The team found key differences in 16 genes in intensive care patients compared to DNA from other groups.

These findings will now serve as a roadmap for future efforts, opening new areas of research focused on potential new therapies and diagnostics with pinpoint accuracy.

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