Vanderbilt researchers identify genetic link to pneumonia

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – Researchers at Vanderbilt University have found a way to identify COVID-19 patients who are at greatest risk of pneumonia.

Vanderbilt researchers have conducted studies on more than 85,000 patients, and researchers have identified nearly 9,000 cases of pneumonia in patients of European ancestry and approximately 1,700 cases in patients of African ancestry. Their findings were recently published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The researchers say this study is important because they performed separate analyzes based on race to identify genetic risk factors contributing to pneumonia.

Jennifer Below, PhD, associate professor of medicine, said that, combined with systemic racism and socioeconomic factors, these differences in genetic risk may contribute to some of the disparities we have seen in COVID-19 outcomes.

The research found that the strongest pneumonia association in patients of European ancestry was the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis. In patients of African descent, it is the mutation that causes sickle cell disease.

The researchers say they will work to determine if these carriers are at risk of having a poor outcome if they catch COVID-19. What’s great is that this research may be able to identify people at higher risk for severe pneumonia and develop a specific treatment for them, which could save many lives. Learn more about the study here.

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