Doha – December 19, 2022: A new study has identified biomarkers that predict survival in critically ill COVID-19 patients with lung dysfunction. The study was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Ali Ait Hussain from the intensive care unit at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and led by Dr. Charbel Abi Khalil at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q).
DNA methylation is considered one of the hallmarks of epigenetics. It regulates the activity of a sequence of DNA by adding methyl groups to the DNA molecule, without altering the sequence itself. It has been recently shown that DNA methylation regulates the activity of the immune system in COVID-19 infections. However, data regarding the death or recovery of COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), an acute and severe lung dysfunction often encountered in critically ill patients, remains lacking.
Along with his fellow researchers, Dr. Charbel Abi Khalil, associate professor of medicine & genetic medicine at WCM-Q and a cardiology consultant, sought to address this research gap by assessing the methylome of peripheral blood mononuclear cells in very sick COVID-19 patients.
As part of the study, the researchers recruited 100 critically ill COVID-19 patients with lung dysfunction at HMC’s intensive care unit (ICU). DNA methylation and specific white blood cells were measured at four consecutive time points. The COVID-19 patients were monitored until they healed or passed away from the infection.
The researchers observed an epigenetic signature set of eight immune-related differentially methylated genes that predict survival in those patients.
The paper, titled ‘DNA methylation predicts the outcome of COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome,’ has been published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, a renowned medical journal. The study was funded by the biomedical research program (BMRP) at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, a program funded by Qatar Foundation.
Dr. Abi Khalil said: “There is clear evidence that DNA methylation can predict the chances of survival in critically ill COVID-19 patients with ARDS. However, we believe that further studies are needed to elucidate the potential use of DNA methylation as a biomarker of the disease and, most importantly, to assess epigenetic-targeted therapies that modify DNA methylation in COVID-19.”
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