People who develop acid reflux may be more vulnerable to COVID-19, a Queensland study has found.
QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has discovered genes that can cause the digestive disease were linked with a 15 per cent increase in the risk of severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation.
Their study looked at genes predicted to cause gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), one of Australia’s most common gastrointestinal conditions.
QIMR Berghofer researcher Dr Jue-Sheng Ong said observational studies had indicated an association between GORD and COVID-19 due to common risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
But Dr Ong said their study, which was published in the Human Molecular Genetics journal on Thursday, had made a direct link.
“We found that genes predicted to cause GORD were linked with a 15 per cent increase in the risk of severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation,” Dr Ong said.
“We then used statistical modelling to test whether common risk factors could be driving the association.
“Our analysis ultimately found that obesity explained part of the relationship between GORD and COVID-19 risk, but it didn’t explain all of it.
“These findings suggest GORD could potentially play a direct causal role in increasing the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation.”
The study analysed “large-scale genetic data” from the UK Biobank, QIMR Berghofer’s QSkin study and The COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative.
Dr Ong said the study was aided by previous QIMR Berghofer research published earlier this year that had identified new genes linked to acid reflux.
“We’ve now found 88 genes or genetic markers that are associated with whether or not a person gets acid reflux,” he said.
“That allowed us to take this next step.”
Dr Ong said it wasn’t clear whether the increased risk of severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation related to GORD or to treatments people took after being diagnosed with acid reflux, with more research needed.
The study was led by QIMR Berghofer’s Professor Stuart MacGregor and funded by National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.