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

Why are Elderly More Susceptible to COVID?


Cellular mechanism explains behind why some are at greater risk, and may be used to protect them.

Among the populations most significantly affected by COVID-19 are the elderly and patients with preexisting medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and chronic lung diseases like COPD and asthma.

In a new study published in the journal JCI Insight, Brown University researchers describe the cellular and molecular events that explain why these groups have a higher risk of infection as well as of severe side effects and death.

“This paper details a major discovery in COVID-19,” says corresponding author Jack A. Elias, MD, an immunologist and dean of medicine and biological sciences. “It shows that levels of a protein called chitinase 3-like-1 increase with age as well as comorbid diseases and infection. What’s more, chitinase 3-like-1 augments SARS CoV-2 infection.”

The findings not only answer important questions about key mechanisms of the complex SARS-CoV-2 virus, Elias says, but also have direct implications for the development of therapeutics to control the viral infection.

Elias is part of a National Institutes of Health-funded laboratory that focuses on the cell and molecular biology of lung injury and repair. Researchers in the lab, including lead study author Suchitra Kamle, PhD, and co-author Chun Geun Lee, MD, PhD, have recently focused on the biology of enzymes and enzyme-like molecules, called chitinases and chitinase-like proteins, respectively. Of particular interest is a chitinase-like protein referred to as chitinase 3-like-1, a molecule naturally found in blood.

“We’ve been studying this gene family here at Brown for a while and we know that it has a large number of biologic effects, as well as tremendously important roles in both health and diseases,” says Lee, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology (research).

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