Genetic mutations that put some younger people at high risk for severe illness from the new coronavirus will be investigated in an international study.
Plans call for enrolling 500 patients worldwide who are under age 50, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted to an intensive care unit, and have no underlying health problems such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease.
Studying these patients' DNA may identify genetic mutations that make some people more susceptible to infection, according to study leader Jean-Laurent Casanova. That could eventually help doctors identify people most at risk of developing severe coronavirus disease.
"We're going to try to find the genetic basis of severe coronavirus infection in young people," he said. Casanova is an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md.
Pinpointing genetic mutations could help scientists find new treatments. For example, if a patient's cells don't make enough of a certain molecule, supplementing it may become a treatment.
Researchers have started enrolling patients and sequencing their genes, but any benefits of the research are likely years away.
"This is not a short-term effort," Casanova said in an institute news release.
While COVID-19 is typically most severe among older adults, Casanova was interested in children and young adults who had severe illness without typical risk factors, such as age or underlying health problems.
"I'm grateful we've been able to start this new project so quickly," and hopefully "it will be of clinical use in two or three years," he said.
His team has previously analyzed the genes of patients infected with viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. The infection closest to COVID-19 that Casanova's team has studied is severe influenza pneumonitis, for which researchers identified three genetic links.
The World Health Organization has more on the coronavirus pandemic.