People with dementia-linked genetic mutation twice as likely to develop severe Covid-19 infection, researchers say

‘It shows again that increasing disease risks that appear inevitable with ageing might actually be due to specific biological differences’

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 26 May 2020 12:45
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One in 36 Europeans carry a genetic mutation linked to dementia which makes them more likely to develop severe Covid-19, says US-UK research team
One in 36 Europeans carry a genetic mutation linked to dementia which makes them more likely to develop severe Covid-19, says US-UK research team

People who have a genetic condition that exposes them to dementia are also at double the risk of developing severe symptoms from coronavirus, scientists who conducted a large-scale study have warned.

Researchers found a high risk of severe Covid-19 infection among European ancestry participants who carry two faulty copies of the particular gene, known as APOE e4e4.

One in 36 people of European ancestry have two faulty copies of this gene, and this is known to increase risks of Alzheimer’s disease up to 14-fold and also increases risks of heart disease.

The team, from the University of Exeter and the University of Connecticut, used data from the UK Biobank study, which collects health and genetic data on 500,000 people.

The team has previously found that people with dementia are three times more likely to get severe Covid-19, yet they are not one of the groups that has been directly advised to take additional protective measures to avoid the virus.

Part of the increased risk effect may have been exposure to the high prevalence of the virus in care homes. However, the new study indicates that a genetic component may also be at play.

Co-author of the research Dr Chia-Ling Kuo, from the University of Connecticut’s school of medicine, said: “This is an exciting result because we might now be able to pinpoint how this faulty gene causes vulnerability to Covid-19.

“This could lead to new ideas for treatments. It’s also important because it shows again that increasing disease risks that appear inevitable with ageing might actually be due to specific biological differences, which could help us understand why some people stay active to age 100 and beyond, while others become disabled and die in their sixties.”

Professor David Melzer, who led the team, said: “Several studies have now shown that people with dementia are at high risk of developing severe Covid-19. This study suggests that this high risk may not simply be due to the effects of dementia, advancing age or frailty, or exposure to the virus in care homes.”

Professor Melzer added: “The effect could be partly due to this underlying genetic change, which puts them at risk for both Covid-19 and dementia.”

The study is published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

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