Speaking to reporters in the northeastern city of Białystok, Adam Niedzielski said: “Today is ... a special day, an important day for Polish science ... and a very important milestone for the Polish healthcare system."
He added: “We have managed to identify … a very significant risk factor in getting COVID-19. This factor is a specific gene.”
He explained that the gene "is responsible for a predisposition to becoming seriously ill" with the coronavirus.
Confirming previous reports, Niedzielski said the discovery wa made by researchers from the Medical University of Białystok (UMB) "after more than a year and a half of work” on the project.
The Polish scientists have established that the gene was the fourth-most important factor influencing how severely a person suffers from COVID-19, after age, weight and gender, the Reuters news agency reported.
According to the scientists, the gene doubles the risk of serious COVID-19, Poland's PAP news agency reported.
New COVID-19 tests could be ready in months
“Thanks to discovering this gene, an appropriate genetic test will be created to swiftly identify, like with the PCR test, if the patient has the gene and is at a greater risk” of suffering seriously from COVID-19, Niedzielski told reporters.
Such tests could be available in hospitals in a matter of months, according to government officials.
Prof. Marcin Moniuszko, who led the research project, told reporters that around 14 percent of Poles possessed the gene in question, compared to 8-9 percent of the European population as a whole and 27 percent of the people in India, Reuters reported.
The PAP news agency cited Moniuszko as saying that the gene was the fourth-greatest risk factor for having severe COVID-19, after "advanced age, obesity and male gender."
The researchers behind the project voiced hope that identifying those at greatest risk would encourage these people to get vaccinated and ensure them access to more intensive treatment options if they contract COVID-19.
The Polish discovery, first announced on Tuesday, comes in the wake of other research, including a British study from November that reportedly identified a version of a gene that may be associated with a twice higher risk of lung malfunction from COVID-19, according to Reuters.
Source: PAP, Reuters
Click on the audio player above for a report by Radio Poland's Elżbieta Krajewska.