Aarhus University, April 26, 2022
A newly discovered gene defect among people of Inuit ancestry in Greenland, Canada and Alaska will possibly lead to screening of all newborn Inuits as they will otherwise be at risk of dying from child vaccines or simple viral infections.
The gene defect was discovered in close collaboration between researchers from Aarhus University and Newcastle University as well as pediatricians and clinical immunologists in Denmark, Greenland, Alaska and Montreal in Canada.
For several weeks, medical doctors at Rigshospitalet had difficulty diagnosing a very ill 22-month-old Greenlandic child. The child showed signs of meningitis, and there was also a suspicion of tuberculosis, which is relatively common in Greenland. The treatment did not work as intended and the child’s condition was serious. So the medical doctors contacted Professor Trine Hyrup Mogensen at the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University in March 2021.
The results of the analysis of the child’s genetic genome were surprising.
The researchers carried out analyses of the patient’s cells and infected these with herpesvirus and measles virus. It quickly became apparent that the patient’s cells were unable to mount any kind of antiviral response. The cells could not form the signal molecule interferon, which is normally released by cells during viral infections to mobilize the body’s antiviral defense mechanisms. There was uncontrolled viral production in the patient’s cells and the cells simply died.
Trine Hyrup Mogensen’s group came into contact with colleagues in Newcastle, who also work with gene defects in the immune system.
The British researchers were focusing on children from Alaska and Canada.
“The children died or became very ill after COVID-19 infection, influenza or two or three weeks after the MMR vaccine. This is very unusual, but when we compared gene sequences, there was a match,” says Trine Hyrup Mogensen.
“The new mutation is not classified as being pathogenic, but it’s quite clear that it is a gene defect,” she explains.
“The gene defect is so frequent in the population that we’re able to publish the study and hopefully create a change for many families. Deaths can be avoided. It’s a question of the families allowing themselves to be vaccinated and examined. Children with the gene defect shouldn’t be given live vaccines, and they must be given preventive, antiviral drugs and non-living, safe vaccines against influenza and COVID-19 at an early stage,” she says.