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Decoded: Why The Elderly, Diabetics Are At Higher Risk Of COVID-19 Infection And The Way Out

Decoded: Why The Elderly, Diabetics Are At Higher Risk Of COVID-19 Infection And The Way Out

What exactly causes serious illness in the elderly and people with diabetes? New study sheds light on this.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Updated : August 16, 2021 11:31 AM IST

It is now almost two years since the appearance of the deadly virus that disrupted life as we have always known it and brought untold miseries to millions across the world. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it was pointed out that the elderly and people with underlying health conditions like diabetes and hypertension are at a higher risk of serious disease and fatal complications. Time and again, experts have warned this population group about the need for extra precautions and safety measures to stay safe. But what exactly causes serious illness in the elderly and people with diabetes? Researchers from Nanjing University's School of Life Sciences in China claim to have identified the reason. According to them, low microRNA (miRNA) immunity increases the risk of Covid-19 infection in older adults and people with diabetes. This is published in the journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy.

Researchers explain the facts

MicroRNAs are a key class of gene expression regulators which play an important role in inflammation and immune response. Researchers of this study have identified four circulating miRNAs -- miR-7-5p, miR-24-3p, miR-145-5p and miR-223-3p -- which are high in healthy people and much lower in older people and diabetic patients. These miRNAs could effectively inhibit SARS-CoV-2 replication by directly targeting the S protein. Serum exosomes containing these miRNAs from young people could strongly inhibit SARS-CoV-2 replication, but this inhibitory effect was low in older people and diabetic patients, the researchers said.

But people who exercise fare better

However, the researchers saw that long-term exercise can increase the level of these miRNAs in the blood offering better protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The team found that three out of the four circulating miRNAs are significantly increased in the serum of healthy volunteers after 8-weeks' continuous physical exercise. Serum exosomes isolated from these volunteers also showed stronger inhibitory effects on S protein expression and SARS-CoV-2 replication.

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Working out can boost immunity against COVID-19

The study also provides an interesting observation that continuous continuous physical exercise Could boost miRNA immunity against SARS-CoV-2, which gives you another reason to hit the gym after work. Working out every day would therefore help all of us, old or young, to stay out of COVID-19's way.

RNA defense is a reality

The findings of this study also demonstrate for the first time that our own endogenous miRNAs could directly inhibit SARS-CoV-2 virus. Previous studies led by the team have shown that approximately 89 per cent of viruses that infect humans could be targeted by human miRNAs. The new study provides strong and direct evidence supporting the theory that miRNAs, particularly extracellular miRNAs, could function as "RNA defense" and protect cells against foreign nucleic acids.

The study indicates that miRNAs are an important component of the endogenous RNA-based immune system to fight virus infection. Researchers are hopeful that this new understanding of miRNA function may provide new perspectives for prevention, surveillance and treatment of COVID-19.

(With inputs from IANS)