Expert Pitch

‘Genetic Shield’ May Explain Lower COVID Mortality in Southern Italy Compared to North

Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO)

“A 'genetic shield' may have protected southern Italy from the Sars-CoV-2 tsunami that swept the northern regions,” says Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., Founder and Director of the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine at Temple University, and Professor of Pathology at the University of Siena, Italy. “The hypothesis needs to be studied before drawing conclusions, but there is already a solid scientific basis for this theory," Giordano says. 

"There may be a form of defense printed in the DNA against the more serious effects of the coronavirus,” says Giordano, “which seems more widespread in the South of Italy than in the North."

Giordano and his collaborators are currently studying the correlation of certain genetic markers, known as Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA), to incidence of severe cases of COVID-19 throughout Italy. They have published an article in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, describing their findings and subject for further research. 

Co-Authors Pierpaolo Correale from Grand Metropolitan Hospital “Bianchi Melacrino Morelli”, Reggio Calabria along with Francesca Pentimalli, of the National Cancer Institute ‘Pascale,” and Patrizia Maiorano, of the University of Siena, suggest that specific variants of HLA genes could underlie susceptibility to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, or predict a worse disease outcome, and the absence of these variants may protect the patient from more severe disease progression.  

“The identification of such immunogenetic determinants would be crucial to inform priorities in future vaccination campaigns, to decide clinical management strategies, and to isolate genetically at risk individuals, including healthcare workers,” says co-author Luciano Mutti, MD, Oncologist and Professor at the Sbarro Institute.

About the Sbarro Health Research Organization
The Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) is non-profit charity committed to funding excellence in basic genetic research to cure and diagnose cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other chronic illnesses and to foster the training of young doctors in a spirit of professionalism and humanism. To learn more about the SHRO please visit www.shro.org



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