Those With Chronic Lung Disease Have Poorer COVID-19 Outcomes, More Severe Symptoms

Genetic changes enable SARS-CoV-2 to enter the body, replicate and trigger out-of-control immune responses.

A recent study conducted by investigators from the Translational Genomics Research Institute, a team of international scientists, has found that individuals with chronic lung diseases are more susceptible to an infection with COVID-19, which results in more severe symptoms, poorer outcomes and a greater likelihood of death.

Results from the study were published in journal Nature Communications.

“It was recognized early in the pandemic that patients with chronic lung diseases were at particularly high risk for severe COVID-19, and our goal was to gain insight into the cellular and molecular changes responsible for this," Jonathan Kropski, a co-senior author on the study said.

For the study, the team of investigators employed the use of single-cell RNA sequencing technology to analyze the genetic code of 611,398 cells from a variety of databases. The data included both healthy patients and those with chronic lung diseases.

They then conducted sequencing and an analysis in order to identify the characteristics which caused the patients with chronic lung disease to have worse outcomes.

Findings from the study demonstrated that the lung disease patients were “primed” for an infection with the virus. They discovered that there were genetic changes caused by the lung disease in many cells, including the cells that line the lungs and airways.

Additional findings showed that being male, being of older age, having comorbidities like obesity or diabetes and being a smoker were all COVID-19 risk factors that can be exacerbated by the chronic lung disease.

"The genetic changes in immune cells, especially in specialized white blood cells known as T cells, may diminish the patient's immune response to viral infection and lead to higher risk of severe disease and poor outcomes in patients with chronic lung disease," said Linh Bui, lead author on the study said. "Our data suggest that the immune microenvironment at both the molecular and cellular levels in lungs damaged by chronic diseases may promote severe COVID-19."