First large genome wide study – Team of RTG speaker identifys first gene variants associated with severe Covid-19

17 Jun, 2020

IKMB lab and analyst team, work group Prof. Dr. Andre Franke, © UKSH, photo: Maximilian Hermsen

The ABO blood group is associated with severe Covid-19.

Why do some people become severely ill of Covid-19, while others are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms? One answer could be found in the different blood types of patients. Scientists of the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB), under the lead of Prof. Dr. Andre Franke, speaker of the RTG 1743, have – in collaboration with researchers from Oslo University, Norway – conducted the first large-scale genome wide study about Covid-19. They managed to get access to almost 2,000 samples from patients with severe Covid-19 disease (defined as needing respiratory support in an intensive care unit) from pandemic epicenters in Northern Italy (Milano, Monza) and Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian). They found two independent gene variants that seem to influence the severity of the course of the disease. One of the variants hints at the ABO blood group being of relevance in the disease etiology. While blood group A was associated with almost 50% higher risk, blood group 0 was associated with app. 50% lower risk for severe Covid-19 diseases. The second variant is located on chromosome 3 and points at a cluster of different immune-relevant candidate genes. These candidate genes can now be followed up by hypothesis-driven and targeted research. Thus, the first genetic risk map for Covid-19 and additional disease-causing factors have been identified.

Andre Franke, Director of the IKMB and member of the board of the Cluster of Excellence „Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation” at Kiel University had a leading role in this study. The first authors Prof. Dr. David Ellinghaus und Dr. Frauke Degenhardt are also scientists and bioinformaticians of the IKMB. The doctoral researchers of project 8_2015, Mareike Wendorff and Hesham El Abd, have also been part of the team of analysts. The study is published online under the title „Genome-wide association study of severe Covid-19 with respiratory failure“ in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study was supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the “Förderstiftung Gutes Tun” of the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein.

Kontakt:  Andre Franke

More information

The New England  Journal of Medicine, 18.06.2020, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2020283

Press release University Hospital Schleswig Holstein, 10.06.2020, German

Press release University Hospital Schleswig Holstein, 10.06.2020, English

Press release University of Kiel, 10.06.2020

Press release Cluster of Excellence Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation

Press reviews