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Researchers discover enzyme that makes men more vulnerable to covid-19

Updated on:11 May 2020, 18:19pm IST
This large study aims to answer the pertinent question why men are more vulnerable to the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus.
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Science finally has the answer to the question why men are more vulnerable to covid-19. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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One of the most startling discoveries to come to the fore during the covid-19 pandemic is that it impacts men more than women. While several studies have proven that men are, in fact, more vulnerable to covid-19, a research on several thousand patients finally has the answer why.

Published in the European Heart Journal, the research found that men have higher concentrations of an enzyme called ACE2 than women—which enables SARS-Cov-2 to take over healthy cells in men. ACE2 or angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 is found attached to outer cell membranes of the lungs, heart, arteries, kidneys, and intestines.

What does ACE2 have to do with covid-19?
“ACE2 is a receptor on the surface of cells. It binds to the coronavirus and allows it to enter and infect healthy cells after it is has been modified by another protein on the surface of the cell, called TMPRSS2,” explained Adriaan Voors from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who is the co-author of the study.

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Sadly, men are more vulnerable to covid-19. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“High levels of ACE2 are present in the lungs and, therefore, it is thought to play a crucial role in the progression of lung disorders related to COVID-19,” he added.

ACE2 plays a crucial role in regulating blood pressure in the body. This is part of the reason why this enzyme is considered an important competent in treatment for cardiovascular diseases. In fact, drugs given to heart-failure patients targets the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) with the use of inhibitors. Studies now suggest that RAAS inhibitors can increase levels of ACE2 in the blood, thus increasing the risk of covid-19 for heart patients taking this drug.

Why are men at higher risk of covid-19?
For the study, researchers measured ACE2 in blood samples of heart failure patients from 11 European countries. To facilitate the findings, they assessed clinical factors like use of ACE inhibitors, history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and history of bypass surgery to study the reasons for high ACE2 levels.

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The researchers found that men had higher ACE2 concentrations than women, with the enzyme also found in elevated levels in the testes. The study authors reckon that the regulation in the testes might explain why men have higher ACE2 concentrations and thus are more vulnerable to covid-19.

(With inputs from IANS)

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