The search for super immune people who never get Covid

Imagine being born naturally resistant to SARS-CoV-2, and never having to worry about contracting COVID-19 or spreading the virus. If you have this superpower, researchers want to meet you, to enrol you in their study.

As previously described in a paper in Nature Immunology (Andreakos. E. et al. 2021), an international team of scientists has launched a global hunt for people who are genetically and naturally resistant to the pandemic virus infection. The research team seeks to prove that identifying the genes protecting these persons could lead to the development of virus-blocking drugs that not only protect people from COVID-19, but also prevent them from passing on the infection.

But the scientists may have an almost impossible task, given the difficulties of proving that individuals were highly exposed to the virus. When studying couples, which one of the 2 persons was infected and the other no, they will have to confirm that the sick partner was shedding high doses of live virus when the couple were interacting closely with one another.

The new project is based on the hypothesis that the kind of resistance mechanisms they might find. The most obvious could be that some people don’t have a functioning Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2receptor, which SARS-CoV-2 utilizes it to cross cells membranes. In one genome-wide association studies (GWAS) (Horowitz, J. E. et al. 2021), researchers have identified a possible correlation between a rare mutation that probably reduces expression of the ACE2 gene and a diminished risk of infection.

Some candidates might have a robust immune system producing antiviral proteins called type I interferons, which limit the virus replication in human cells. These specific antiviral proteins from the cytokines family are the first defense line and appear even before antibodies productions against the virus.

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