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Can your DNA tell you how likely and how badly you'll get COVID-19?

A company says it has the answer, other experts weigh in
Can your DNA tell you how likely and how badly you'll get COVID-19?
Posted at 6:36 AM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-29 17:32:10-05

CLEVELAND — Genetics. They make us, well…us. But what do genetics say about us when it comes to coronavirus? One company told us it has that answer and it will tell you for a certain price. 5 On Your Side Investigators dug deep into the world of genetic research, where experts told us what they know and don’t know so far about COVID-19.

“What has COVID been like for you this year?” we asked Nina Bailey from Cleveland.

“Rough!” she told us immediately.

“I think we’re living in a different world, you know?” said Ellen Hejduk from Macedonia.

“A little challenging and confusing,” replied Matt Simmonds from Hudson.

So, what if a simple genetic test could make the coronavirus less confusing?

“Would you get that kind of a test?” we asked.

“Yeah. That would be interesting,” said Simmonds.

“I don’t think so. I’d rather deal with it when I have to rather than worry about it in advance,” said Hjduk.

“Sure, I’d be interested in a genetic test,” said Nicholas Howell from Twinsburg.

You may have heard an ad here in Ohio from The DNA Company. It’s based in Ontario, Canada and the company promises to tell you just how susceptible you are to catching the virus and how severe your case will be.

“The DNA Company helps you understand your DNA in a way that no other company does,” said Dr. David Liepart during a video that can be seen on the company’s site. He’s the Chief Medical Officer for The DNA Company.

More with DNA company

“Genes are instructions. Genes tell your body what to do,” said the company’s CEO Kashif Khan during our recent interview. “We already know at the medical level how these systems work. We just need to match the genes to them. And that’s what our science team did.”

The company said it’s been studying genetic effects on infectious diseases for the past three years. “At The DNA Company, we’ve done the largest of its kind in analyzing almost 10,000 individual genetic profiles,” said Dr. Liepart in the video.

This past summer, Kahn said they had a break-though about COVID-19, and that the key to all of this is inflammation in your body. “And if the genes that tell your body how to deal with inflammation aren’t working well, then you’re the person that’s not going to be able to cope,” said Kahn.

For $299, the company will do a full DNA analysis, give you COVID-related information, and tell you how to change your way of life to avoid suffering from the disease.

“Now there’s something that can actually be done because now we can map out genetically why you’re at risk and why you’re sick,” Kahn told us.

Researchers are learning more about COVID-19 every day. So we asked genetics experts one simple question: Are we there yet?

“Genetics underlay some of the risks of COVID disease for sure,” said Dan Rader. He’s the Chair of the Department of Genetics at the University of Pennsylvania. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t think we’re ready yet…to be applying genetic principles to the clinical application of ‘am I at risk of severe COVID disease,’” said Rader. “We just don’t know enough yet.”

Additional interview with Dan Rader

However, he says experts are working on it.

We found a group called the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative. It’s a combination of researchers from around the world.

They have been getting together for the last seven months, all trying to figure out how genetics play a role in coronavirus infections, such as “an area on Chromosome 3 in which genetic variance clearly are related to the risk of severity of disease,” said Rader.

He told us the University of Pennsylvania is a member of the initiative and has contributed data to the group.

“Age, race, ethnicity, obesity, heart disease, lung disease - all the things we’ve heard about are really much more important right now in predicting risk than any kind of genetic variation that you might pick up with a genetic test,” Rader told us.

“What is genetic? What’s not?” said Dr. Catherine Ball. She is Ancestry.com’s Chief Scientific Officer.

What is genetic?

In addition to tracking people’s family trees using genetics, Ancestry has focused efforts recently on COVID susceptibility and severity based on genetics.

“We’ve seen several different genetic signals that link to either becoming infected, susceptibility, or symptom severity,” she told us. However, she also said those mutations are very few and very rare.

Ancestry, too, is participating in the global COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative. “The scientific community is still looking for the overall fingerprint that’s going to help understand the severity,” she said.

So, we’re not saying anybody is right or wrong here. This is all still so new for scientists. Some make claims they have the answer. Others say, “We’re working on it.” So, here’s what you do as a consumer. Do your homework. Get a better understanding of genetic research out there. Then, make a decision about whether you spend money on genetic tests for you.

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