A new study suggests that genetic factors may lead to multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare but life-threatening complication of Covid-19.
This condition is characterized by intense inflammation (cytokine storm) and can affect multiple organs including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. It can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated promptly.
So far it is not clear why certain children develop this complication. This study provides new evidence on the potential genetic factors related to MIS-C.
The study, funded by the Al Jalila Foundation and published in JAMA Network Open, was led by scientists from the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) and Al Jalila Children’s Hospital. It involved genetic and clinical data of dozens of Arab children in Dubai and Jordan.
The study analysed clinical, laboratory markers, and genomic findings of 70 predominantly Middle Eastern children who had Covid-19, of whom 45 met the case definition of MIS-C while 25 did not and were included as ‘controls’.
Patients were treated at Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital in the UAE as well as in the Jordan University Hospital between September 2020 and August 2021.
The study found that children with MIS-C were significantly more likely to have rare and likely damaging immune-related genetic changes when compared to control children with Covid-19 but without MIS-C. The study also found a link between genetic findings and disease onset and resistance to treatment.
“This is an important study not only because the findings show comprehensive genetic profiling of children with MIS-C which is essential to characterize the genetic contribution to the disease, but also because patients of an Arab background have long been underrepresented in genetic studies,” said Dr. Walid Abuhammour, Head of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases department at Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital, and study investigator.
“The results of this research suggest that rare genetic factors play a role in MIS-C disease and highlight immune-related pathways which might become targets for intervention,” said Ahmad Abou Tayoun, Director of Al Jalila Children's Genomics Center and Associate Professor of Genetics at MBRU.
“Hopefully, this will now prompt additional studies to functionally characterize some of the identified genes, and to expand genomic sequencing to more diverse populations to fully characterize the genetic landscape of this new disease entity,” he added.
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