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Gene responsible for increased severity of influenza in Chinese populations

29 January 2013

 

Researchers part-funded by the Medical Research Council at the MRC Human Immunology Unit at Oxford University and Beijing Capital Medical University have found a genetic variant which explains why Chinese populations may be more vulnerable to the H1N1 form of flu, commonly known as swine flu.

 

This finding could help identify those at high risk of severe infection and help prioritise those in highest need of treatment. Results are published today in Nature Communications.

 

The study, led by Dr Tao Dong, showed that having this variant in your genetic make-up could increase your chances of severe infection by six times. The variation rs12252-C is occasionally found in Caucasian populations (in around 1 in 3,000 people) and was already known to be associated with more severe influenza. The teams in the UK and China focussed on this variation as it is 100 times more common in Han Chinese, the predominant ethnic group in China. The results showed that it was present in 69 per cent of Chinese patients with severe pandemic (swine) influenza in 2009 compared with 25 per cent who only had a mild version of the infection.

 

Lead author, Dr Tao Dong at the MRC Human Immunology Unit, Oxford University, says:

“Understanding why some people may be worse affected than others is crucial in improving our ability to manage flu epidemics and to prevent people dying from the virus. Previous studies had shown genetic variant was associated with severe influenza infection in Europeans, but this variant is extremely rare in Europeans. We became interested in this because we noticed it is 100 times more common in China. It’s vital that we continue to fund research that examines flu infection, from the smallest details of our genetic code and in the populations around the world that continue to be vulnerable to infection.”

 

Co-author, Professor Andrew McMichael at the MRC Human Immunology Unit, Oxford University, adds:

“The apparent effect of this gene variant on the severity of influenza is of great interest. It remains to be seen how this gene affects the whole picture of influenza in China and South East Asia but it might help explain why new influenza viruses often first appear in this region of the world.”

 

The original work on the genetic variation rs12252-C and flu severity was carried out by Professor Paul Kellam at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre in Cambridge and Professor Peter Openshaw at Imperial College London. The work was supported by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the Beijing Natural Science Foundation, Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission, National S&T Major Project for Infectious Diseases Control, Beijing Youan Hepatitis/AIDS Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

 

For access to the paper or to request further information please contact the MRC Press Office on 0207 395 2276 or email press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

 

The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed.  Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. www.mrc.ac.uk

The MRC Centenary Timeline chronicles 100 years of life-changing discoveries and shows how our research has had a lasting influence on healthcare and wellbeing in the UK and globally, right up to the present day. www.centenary.mrc.ac.uk

 

Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division is one of the largest biomedical research centres in Europe, with over 2,500 people involved in research and more than 2,800 students. The University is rated the best in the world for medicine, and it is home to the UK’s top-ranked medical school.

 

From the genetic and molecular basis of disease to the latest advances in neuroscience, Oxford is at the forefront of medical research. It has one of the largest clinical trial portfolios in the UK and great expertise in taking discoveries from the lab into the clinic. Partnerships with the local NHS Trusts enable patients to benefit from close links between medical research and healthcare delivery.

 

A great strength of Oxford medicine is its long-standing network of clinical research units in Asia and Africa, enabling world-leading research on the most pressing global health challenges such as malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and flu. Oxford is also renowned for its large-scale studies which examine the role of factors such as smoking, alcohol and diet on cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

 

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease. http://www.sanger.ac.uk/

 

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