Scientists use machine learning to identify likelihood of severe COVID

likelihood of severe COVID, genetic research
© Marcos Calvo Mesa

The research team believe that some people have a genetic predisposition that increases likelihood of severe COVID, which may be crucial to understanding how mutations could change outcomes

Machine learning strategies have been helping scientists to create vaccine candidates and sift through existing drugs for helpful ones that could stand against COVID in some capacity.

Now, researchers are looking at one of the most pressing questions – who is likely to experience severe COVID? With 70% of available 2021 vaccines pre-ordered, it is becoming increasingly urgent to identify those most at risk of dying.

Ethnicity is widely scientifically supported as one of the risk factors for a severe form of the virus, with disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities dying and becoming hospitalised.

When it comes to severe COVID, though the consideration of race is present via socioeconomic and comorbidity factors, what about genetic differences?

The severity of COVID-19 and the HLA-I genotype

Researchers from the HSE Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology set out to answer this question. Maxim Shkurnikov, Stepan Nersisyan, Alexei Galatenko and Alexander Tonevitsky with colleagues from Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University and Filatov City Clinical Hospital (Tatjana Jankevic, Ivan Gordeev, Valery Vechorko) studied the interconnection between HLA-I genotype and the severity of COVID-19.

What is T-cell immunity and why is it important?

T-cell immunity is one of the key mechanisms used by the human body to fight virus infections. The staging ground for cell immunity development is the presentation of virus peptides on the surface of infected cells. This is followed by activation of T lymphocytes, which start to kill the infected cells.

The ability to successfully present virus peptides is largely determined by genetics. In human cells, human leukocyte antigen class I (HLA-I) molecules are responsible for this presentation. The set of six such molecules is unique in every human and is inherited from an individual’s parents.

Basically, if the alleles can detect the virus pretty well, then the immune cells can move in and destroy the infected cells quite fast.

This means that when a person has not great alleles that don’t detect as fast as they should, they could be more likely to experience a severe form of COVID.

‘More severe forms of the disease’

Alexander Tonevitsky commented: “In addition to the discovered correlations between the genotype and COVID-19 severity, the suggested approach also helps to evaluate how a certain COVID-19 mutation can affect the development of T-cell immunity to the virus.

“For example, we will be able to detect groups of patients for whom infection with new strains of SARS-CoV-2 can lead to more severe forms of the disease.”

Read the full study here.


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