COVID-19 Severity Among Elderly May Be Due To Genetic Reasons Finds Study

According to a modelling study, a genetically prearranged limit on the immune system may be the key to why coronavirus has such a devastating effect on the elderly.

According to a modelling study, a genetically prearranged limit on the immune system may be the key to why coronavirus has such a devastating effect on the elderly. It has been noted by the researchers at University of Washington (UW) in the US noted that the immune system’s ability to fight coronavirus, like any infection, largely depends on the repetition of the immune cells effective at destroying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease.

The study, which was recently published in The Lancet eBioMedicine journal, suggests that the body’s ability to produce these cloned immune cells, which cannot be created indefinitely, declines significantly with age.

“When DNA split in cell division, the end cap – called a telomere – gets a little shorter with each division,” said professor James Anderson, a modeller of biological systems at UW.

“After a series of replications of a cell, it gets too short and stops further division. Not all cells or all animals have this limit, but immune cells in humans have this cell life,” Anderson said in a statement.

Despite this limit, the average person’s immune system performs admirably until the age of 50, according to the researchers.

When enough core immune cells, known as T cells, have shortened telomeres and are unable to rapidly clone themselves through cellular division in sufficient numbers to attack and clear the COVID-19 virus, which has the trait of sharply reducing immune cell numbers, they said.

Telomere lengths, according to Anderson, are inherited from parents.

There are some differences in these lengths between people of different ages, as well as the age at which these lengths are mostly used up.

“Depending on your parents and very little on how you live, your longevity or, as our paper claims, your response to COVID-19 is a function of who you were when you were born,” he said.

The researchers used publicly available data on COVID-19 mortality from the Centers for Disease Control and the US Census Bureau, as well as studies on telomeres, many of which were published by the co-authors over the last two decades, to build their model.

According to the researchers, assembling telomere length information about a person or specific demographic could help doctors determine who was less susceptible.

The doctors could also allocate resources, such as booster shots, based on which populations and individuals are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

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