A new study led by a medical student from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine provides in-depth of analysis of who may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and why.

Study led by OUWB medical student helps explore highest risk COVID-19 patients
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A new study led by a medical student from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine provides in-depth analysis of who may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and why.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 and COVID-19: patients, comorbidities, and therapies” was published March 2 in the print version of American Journal of Physiology Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology.

The study aimed to determine if there is increased risk of severe COVID-19 in individuals who have elevated levels of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Elevated levels of ACE2 may be found in people with primary comorbidities (cardiac and respiratory disease, for example), as well as those with secondary risk factors related to age, sex, and race. 

Lead author was Girish Pathangey, a fourth-year medical student at OUWB. Co-authors were Priyal Fadadu, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Alexandra Hospodar, fourth-year medical student, OUWB, and Amr E. Abbas, M.D., professor, Department of Internal Medicine, OUWB.

Girish said the study originated after watching a video about a year ago on severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and how the virus has been shown to latch on to ACE2. At the time, not much was known.

“This project was really just another avenue for our team to fight against the pandemic,” he said.

According to Wired, ACE2 “is a protein that sits on the surface of many types of cells in the human body, including in the heart, gut, lungs, and inside the nose. It’s a key cog in a biochemical pathway that regulates blood pressure, wound healing, and inflammation. However, “like a key turning in a latch, the virus gains entry to the cell through ACE2, then hijacks the cell’s protein-making machinery to make copies of itself. An infection begins.”

Studies early in the pandemic surfaced on comorbidities associated with severe COVID-19 and fatalities.

“It really came to the question if there was a link between ACE2 — the major vehicle of SARS-CoV-2 replication — and major risk factors?” said Girish.

Pathangey said the research team behind “Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 and COVID-19: patients, comorbidities, and therapies” reviewed the relationship among elevated ACE2 levels, common comorbidities, and risk factors in COVID-19 cases. The study was based on data available via LitCovid, PubMed, Google Scholar, the World Health Organization, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention databases.


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The study found strong evidence of elevated ACE2 and high susceptibility and severity to COVID-19 in patients who had renal disease, diabetes, obesity, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease. A unique aspect of the study explored on race and genetics. In fact, the study discusses the possibility of blood groups linked to ACE2 and increased risk of COVID-19.

Girish said the research team tackled the project as a way to cope at a time when many were scrambling to determine who might be most susceptible to COVID-19.

Pathangey said getting it published “was exhilarating.”

“We spent many days and nights trying to compile everything together in a timely manner since it was so time sensitive,” he said. “It was truly a team effort.”

Pathangey said the hope is that the study will help the academic community further its understanding on the disease and to support treatments or therapies that block ACE2 channel receptors to reduce the chance of people suffering from severe COVID-19

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at adietderich@oakland.edu. 

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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