Polish scientist involved in breakthrough work linking coronavirus effects to genes

Doctor Karolina Chiałkowska: part of team researching the link between the virus and genes. Uniwersytet Medyczny w Białymstoku/Facebook

A Polish researcher has helped make a breakthrough in coronavirus research linking how people react to the virus to their genes.

As countries around the world struggle to control the COVID-19 epidemic, teams of researchers are busy trying to understand the virus, from who is most at risk to it to how people become immune to it. The outcome of this research could help protect vulnerable groups and save thousands of lives around the world.

Now an international team, which includes Polish bio-technologist Doctor Karolina Chiałkowska, has made an important discovery: people’s susceptibility to the coronavirus depends on their genes.

Based at the Medical University of Białystok in eastern Poland and the company Imagene.me, which is also located in that city, Chwiałkowska specialises in the analyses of disease-related changes in gene expression levels and DNA methylation, especially cancers and metabolic disorders. She is also interested in epigenetic age perturbation.

Her work is part of an international effort looking into why people react differently to the coronavirus.Jakub Kaczmarczyk/PAP

Recently, Chwiałkowska has been working with international research consortium the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative (HGI), a bottom-up collaborative effort in the human genetics community “to generate, share and analyse data to learn the genetic determinants of COVID-19 susceptibility, severity and outcomes”. The research was conducted in 50 countries simultaneously.

“This means that a team of researchers from one side of the world has ongoing access to the results of other scientists working on the same problem,” said Chwiałkowska.

The researchers found that genes located in the third human chromosome could be key to determining why people react differently after being infected with the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus and experience the COVID-19 illness in different ways. This was discovered by analysing the DNA of 2,000 infected people in Spain and Italy.

“The large-scale genomic analyses confirmed the relationship between genetic variability in this region of the human genome and severe COVID-19,” she said.