Understanding the genetic differences that determine why otherwise healthy people develop more severe symptoms of COVID-19 infection than others is a crucial first step towards developing new treatment strategies.
A multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Malta working on the project TargetID, ‘Novel Drug Targets for Infectious Diseases’, will be sequencing the DNA and RNA of a large collection of over 1,000 Maltese individuals. Their goal is to identify genes that can influence COVID-19 severity, with the aim of finding suitable drug targets that will prevent the severe effects of COVID-19. They will also be looking into the genes and gene pathways that influence the course of viral infection to identify people at risk of developing a more severe response to the virus.
"The findings of this study will help increase our understanding of the current pandemic and help build more effective defences against future pandemics."
The team, led by Dr Stephanie Bezzina Wettinger, Head of the Department of Applied Biomedical Science, includes researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and the Centre for Molecular Medicine & Biobanking.
One of the researchers on this team, Ms Francesca Borg Carbott, said, “This is an excellent opportunity for local researchers to contribute and be at the forefront of the world’s response to the COVID pandemic. The findings of this study will help increase our understanding of the current pandemic and help build more effective defences to future pandemics.”
The wealth of data generated by this 18-month study will be a highly valuable resource for future studies on other pathogens that influence gene expression in blood, as well as on inflammatory conditions such as heart attacks.
The study is being funded through the MCST COVID-19 R&D Fund 2020, which is jointly administered by the Malta Council for Science & Technology and Malta Enterprise.
More information can be found on the project website.