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New Finnish study sheds light on workings of coronavirus

Age and gender don't play a significant role in how the coronavirus infects humans, according to fresh research.

Seppo Parkkila
Professor Seppo Parkkila from Tampere University is the co-author of a study which presents new information about how the coronavirus works. Image: Jani Aarnio / Yle

While the most severe forms of COVID-19 have been reported in men and older patients, new research at Finland’s Tampere University indicates that age and gender don’t play a significant role in the expression of the ACE2 receptor through which the coronavirus infects human target cells.

Doctoral researcher Harlan Barker and professor Seppo Parkkila from the university’s faculty of medicine and health technology found that age and gender had little effect on ACE2 gene expression in the general public.

"It was a small surprise, but when you do research, you are used to surprises," Parkkila told Yle, adding that "no clear trend emerged" in their study.

One piece of the puzzle

As close to 44 million coronavirus cases have been reported globally, researchers around the world are racing against the clock to uncover the mechanisms behind COVID-19.

One trend has been that men and older patients have had more instances of the coronavirus than other segments of the population. It's not known why, according to Parkkila.

Recently, new information has emerged about interferons, which are proteins produced by cells that prevent the growth of viruses, among other things.

According to Parkkila, the regulation of these interferons may differ in people of different ages.

The study by the University of Tampere duo also predicted the mechanisms by which the ACE2 gene is regulated, and found that two different ACE2 messenger RNAs are coded from the ACE2 gene.

RNA is a molecule essential in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. Its expression is normally very low in the respiratory tract, although the lungs are a key target organ for COVID-19, the research report says.

The study suggested that even a small number of receptors in airways may be sufficient to contract the disease.

Related further research is already underway by the research group at the university, says Parkkila.

A more in-depth and detailed version of the study's findings in English is available here.

EDIT 5.11.2020 This article originally stated that the study had not been peer-reviewed. In fact it was peer-reviewed before publication.

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