In a groundbreaking study, scientists from NYU Abu Dhabi, led by Associate Professor of Biology Youssef Idaghdour, have identified key regulators of genetic activity associated with the immune response against COVID-19.

The research, conducted in collaboration with medical experts from various Abu Dhabi hospitals, focused on microRNAs — small RNA molecules that control gene activity — and their impact on the severity of COVID-19 among 259 unvaccinated patients residing in Abu Dhabi.

The research team employed an analysis of multiple omics datasets, including genotypes, miRNA, and mRNA expression, obtained from patients upon hospital admission. Additionally, they incorporated phenotypic data from electronic health records. Through an examination of 62 clinical variables and the expression levels of 632 miRNAs, the researchers successfully identified 97 miRNAs associated with eight blood phenotypes significantly linked to ICU admission.

According to a report by SciTechDaily, the team successfully identified specific microRNAs that correlated with a weakened immune response and an increased likelihood of ICU admission. Their investigation also yielded the first comprehensive genomic analysis of blood microRNAs in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia regions, which have traditionally been underrepresented in genomics research.

The researchers observed alterations in microRNA expression during the early stages of infection. These changes were found to be associated with distinct blood traits and immune cell death, enabling the virus to evade the immune system and propagate more effectively.

The findings of the genetic study underscore the influence of an individual's genetic makeup on immune function and disease severity. Moreover, they provide valuable insights into enhancing patient prognosis and treatment strategies. With the diverse sample population involved in the study, there is hope that these discoveries can be applied to approximately 30% of the global population residing in the MENA region and South Asia.

Idaghdour expressed his excitement about the findings in a news release, stating, "These discoveries enhance our understanding of why some patients exhibit greater resilience against COVID-19. The study demonstrates the potential of microRNAs as promising biomarkers for assessing disease severity and as targets for therapeutic interventions."

"Furthermore, the methodology employed in this study can be adapted to other populations, further advancing our comprehension of how gene regulation serves as a fundamental mechanism influencing COVID-19 and potentially the severity of other infections."

The results of the research were recently published in the journal Human Genomics.