Genetic study reveals link between blood type and COVID severity

(ORDO NEWS) — Very early in the pandemic, doctors began tracking the relationship between COVID-19 disease severity and a patient’s blood type.

Now researchers have confirmed these early observations by finding that several blood proteins have a causal relationship with an increased risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Some of the earliest observational studies conducted in Wuhan in 2020 pointed to a correlation between a person’s blood type and the risk of serious illness as a result of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The general observation was that people with blood type A were at a much higher risk of hospitalization and death compared to people with blood type O.

A new study published in the journal PLOS Genetics has provided the clearest picture of a causal relationship between blood type and COVID-19 severity.

The study used an analytical method called Mendelian randomization to assess the relationship between blood protein-regulating gene variants and COVID-19 disease outcomes.

“Causality between exposure and disease can be established because genetic variants inherited from parents to offspring are randomly distributed at conception, similar to how people are assigned to groups in a randomized controlled trial,” explained Vincent Millischer, co-author of the new study.

“In our study, groups are defined by their genetic propensity for different levels of blood protein, which allows us to assess the causal relationship between high blood protein levels and the severity of COVID-19 while avoiding environmental influences.”

The researchers tested more than 3,000 blood proteins, and the severity of COVID-19 was determined by either hospitalization or death.

One of the key findings of the study was a causal relationship between the severity of COVID-19 and an enzyme known as ABO, which determines a person’s blood type.

Christopher Huebel of King’s College London said the new study did not examine the link between specific blood types and the severity of COVID-19. However, he noted that the results of the ABO study confirm the results of previous observational studies linking blood type A to an increased risk of COVID-19.

“The enzyme helps determine a person’s blood type, and our study has linked it to both the risk of hospitalization and the need for respiratory support or death,” said Huebel, co-author of the latest study.

“Our study does not link an exact blood type to the risk of severe COVID-19, but since previous studies have shown that the proportion of people with type A is higher among COVID-19 positive people, this suggests that blood type A is a more likely candidate for subsequent research.”

Of course, there are a number of risk factors other than blood type that are known to play a role in the severity of COVID-19, from age to pre-existing illness. Therefore, these results should not cause concern in people with blood type A.

On the contrary, as study co-author Jerome Breen explains, these results help researchers explore new therapeutic avenues to treat COVID-19. For example, a study found that several blood proteins have a causal relationship with a reduced risk of developing severe disease.

These proteins, known as adhesion molecules, play a role in the interaction between immune cells and blood vessels.

The researchers speculate that these adhesion molecules may help reduce the severity of advanced COVID-19, and it may be possible to use this finding in therapy to prevent sick patients from worsening in the hospital.

“What we did in our study was shortlist for the next round of research,” Brin said. “Of the 1,000,000 blood proteins, we have reduced the list to about 14 that have a definite causal relationship with the risk of developing severe COVID-19 and represent a potentially important avenue for further research to better understand the mechanisms underlying COVID-19 , with the ultimate goal of developing new methods of treatment, and in the future, preventive therapy.”

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