A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Genes May Hold Clues to COVID Severity


A dermatologist investigates whether the genetic cause of hair loss could help to explain worse outcomes among male COVID-19 patients.

As COVID-19 continues its sweep across the globe, among the most confounding aspects of the disease, and the causal virus, SARS-CoV-2, has been why symptoms are so severe for some patients yet milder for many others. Undoubtedly, age and underlying health conditions play a role—but they don’t account for fatalities among younger, otherwise healthy patients.

Physicians and scientists continue to publish data on cases, and one trend evident is that COVID-19 severity and fatalities tend to be greater among men than women. In one recent analysis of 13 US states that report numbers of deaths among men and women, men died more frequently in every case.

In a letter to the editor in the journal Dermatologic Therapy, Carlos Wambier, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of dermatology, clinician educator, and researchers from New York University, Applied Biology Inc., and universities in Spain, India, and Italy lay the groundwork for a hypothesis: the same male hormones that cause hair loss are linked to the vulnerability of patients to SARS-CoV-2.

While more research is needed to test that hypothesis, Wambier says a link between androgen hormones and COVID-19 could help to explain the higher severity for men and have implications for how health care providers test and treat patients. In the following Q&A, he shares more about the journal letter—titled “What does androgenetic alopecia have to do with COVID-19? An insight into a potential new therapy”—and what it might mean, if confirmed, for both patients and physicians.

Read the Q&A with Wambier here.


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