Does resistance to COVID-19 lie in our genes?

Whole Genome Sequencing of COVID-19 patients with the hospital’s clinical information – for research by an Israeli consortium

A national project led by Ichilov Tel Aviv Medical Center, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the Innovation Authority, the Rambam Medical Campus in Haifa and the startup Geneyx – backed by BATM – will collect samples from Corona patients and will sequence their whole genomes in search of innovative ways to diagnose and treat the COVID 19 pandemic.

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Roi Katz And Avi Meshulam with Dr. Hagit BAris Feldman Radio Tel Aviv

A team of geneticists, doctors, and information scientists have recently gotten the green light for a comprehensive study, Lead by the lead researcher – Dr. Hagit Brees Feldman, director of the Ichilov Genetic Institute, to identify which genetic factors protect against the virus and which ones increase the risks. The Israel Innovation Authority has approved a budget to finance this study, the results of which are expected to break new ground in the development of vaccines, treatment of the virus, and ability to accurately screen at-risk populations.

Scientists believe that our genes may hold the key to stopping the COVID19 pandemic. The fact that some of those exposed to the virus do not contract it at all, some contract it but are asymptomatic, some experience minor symptoms, and others are critically affected – has lead researchers to look toward our varied genetic makeup as the key to explaining why people have different reactions to the virus. Such variance in reactions is also known in other diseases such as Malaria and HIV.

“This is a national project of top importance,” states Professor Itamar Grotto, Health Ministry Deputy Director-General

Dr. Hagit Baris Feldman, Director of the Genetics Institute and Genomic Center at Ichilov explains, “in a secure manner and with informed consent, we will gather the clinical information of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in various states of health. This is a rare opportunity to thoroughly and consistently document clinical findings of thousands of patients and sequence their whole genome.”

“We will start with very rare cases,” explains Dvir Dahary, Geneyx’ chief scientist: “For example, healthy young people without any background diseases who have become critically ill and elderly people with only minor symptoms, and we will check what genetic specificities are related to these reactions. A unique area of research in Israel: “Populations with a similar composition (such as Haredim (ultra-orthodox), Arabs, etc.) can also serve as an excellent sample population due to extensive genetic similarity, which enables us to more easily identify the genetic factor responsible for unique clinical manifestations.”

One of the study organizers, Dr. Gidon Akler, adds:

“We will use the Geneyx platform for documentation and standardization of sample collection and for the complete analysis pipeline and storage of the genomic data. This will enable a consistent method of analysis for all participating institutions locally and worldwide, to facilitate a quicker more unified approach of drawing conclusions from the data. The Geneyx platform will allow all participating institutions to use the same methods and protocols of analysis decided by the consortium without infringing upon data sharing and data privacy laws.”

Identifying new genes involved in the spread of the current pandemic is critical for research and could lead to a significant breakthrough in the search for more specific and accurate diagnostic and treatment methods for a virus we currently know very little about.

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