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Conversation with researcher Anna Planas about her Covid-19 project

The CSIC launches a genetic study to identify the individual risk of developing severe forms of Covid-19. We converse about the project with Anna Planas, a CSIC researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona (IIBB-CSIC).

  • What is the research about?

Anna Planas is a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona.The project started when we observed strange patterns in the disease, with cases of healthy people that didn’t belong to the risk groups (people over 60, people suffering from chronic diseases, etc.) but had very different and severe responses to coronavirus infection (SARS-CoV-2). While in some young people the evolution was positive and they did not suffer clinical complications, there were other cases of patients who ended up in the ICU. These latter patients developed an exacerbated immune response to the infection, which was the cause of organ damage. Our hypothesis to explain this is that there may be a genetic variation in the population and that this genetic variation had not been seen before because the people that carries it had never been exposed to this virus.

In this first phase, we are collecting samples from patients under age 60 and without previous pathologies. We will compare 100 healthy patients who did not show clinical symptoms with another 100 patients who, without previous pathologies, suffered severe symptoms. In addition, we will add our data to national and international initiatives that will allow to collect data from a very large number of patients, which will increase the possibilities of obtaining more accurate results.

  • Why is deciphering these genetic causes important in Covid-19 research?

If genetic alterations were found in people who develop severe forms of COVID19, the result would be useful as a prognostic value. Having a mutation caused by a single gene would be the best-case-scenario as it would make possible to identify the mutation among healthy people and to find out those who would have a predisposition to generate an “inadequate” immune response to the infection by SARS-CoV-2. In the long term, identifying genetic alterations could allow us to recognise the molecular pathways involved in the disease and also to find out possible targets for treatment.

  • How are you organising the work?

It is a joint project with many centres involved. As we are researchers at the IIBB and the Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS) at the Hospital Clínic, we are working with other researchers from these institutions in order to obtain and process patients’ blood samples. At the same time, we are preparing the genetic study with Dr. Israel Fernández Cadenas, from the Hospital Sant Pau in Barcelona, and with Jordi Pérez Tur, from the Valencia Institute of Biomedicine. There are also many other CSIC centres participating in the project, such as the National Centre for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC) in Madrid, the Institute of Parasitology and Biomedicine (IPB-CSIC) in Granada, the Institute of Physics of Cantabria (IFCA) , and the Centro de Supercomputación de Galicia (CESGA).

Original article about the project: El CSIC lanza un estudio genético para identificar el riesgo individual de desarrollar formas graves de Covid-19.