UMU logo

Identification of a protective protein that reduces the severity of COVID-19

Written by Elin Thysell

Researchers at Umeå University and their international collaborative partners have discovered that increased levels of the protein OAS1 are associated with reduced mortality and less severe disease requiring ventilation among patients with COVID-19. Using drugs that boost OAS1 levels could be explored to try to improve these outcomes. The findings were published on 26th February 2021 in Nature Medicine.

Elin Thysell reducedOur analysis shows evidence that OAS1 has a protective effect against COVID-19 susceptibility and severity,” explains Dr. Elin Thysell, researcher at Medical Biosciences and Deputy Project Manager for PREDICT. PREDICT is the newly launched initiative at the Medical Faculty with the goal of finding tools early that make it possible to prevent or alleviate diseases by developing the use of biobank samples in the healthcare area. “This is a very exciting development in the race to identify potential therapies to treat patients because there are already therapies in pre-clinical development that boost OAS1 and could be explored for their effect against SARS-CoV-2 infection.” says Johan Normark, specialist doctor in infectious diseases at Umeå University Hospital and principal investigator of the CoVUm study. This clinical study for COVID-19, carried out as a collaboration between Region Västerbotten and Umeå University, studies immunity and the course of the disease furthermore, why the disease strikes so hard on certain individuals.

Photo: Elin Thysell by Elin Thysell.

Since blood markers are being affected by the disease, it is important to study their levels long before the pandemic in those people who have been later in life diagnosed with COVID-19. This is only possible in a few places in the world, and Västerbotten is one of those places due to the Northern Sweden Health and Disease Study, where individuals have given blood samples since the 1980’ s for research purposes, resulting in a unique biobank. “We will now use this unique biobank to determine the levels of important and protective proteins in blood samples obtained before the individual contracted COVID-19, “says Dr. Thysell.

This is done in collaboration with several researchers working at the field of virology and immunology at the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Umeå University, including Anne-Marie Fors Connolly, MIMS Clinical Research Fellow, medical doctor and currently specializing in Clinical Microbiology, who leads several large multi-register projects to map acute and long-term complications of COVID-19. “We will investigate whether OAS-1 levels before the individual has become infected can predict whether the individual will have a severe course of the disease (e.g. need for intensive care or death due to COVID-19). This is done by linking data for OAS-1 levels for each individual to register data collected from Statistics Sweden, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) and the Swedish Intensive Care Registry” explains Dr. Fors Connolly, adding that “all data is pseudonymized to protect individuals’ integrity; the aim is to find a goal for drug treatment that can help future COVID-19 patients”. Sweden has unique national registers that enable mapping of individuals’ risk factors and disease outcomes in COVID-19, and the fact that COVID-19 is a notifiable disease, enables large-scale studies of all COVID-19 patients in Sweden.

We would like to thank all the people in Västerbotten who have participated in studies and donated samples to the world-unique research we are carrying out now. This enables our studies of what happens when the virus meets the patient and why some get a mild variant while others become seriously ill.”, concludes Dr. Thysell.

The original scientific publication: A Neanderthal OAS1 Isoform Protects European Ancestry Individuals Against COVID-19 Susceptibility and Severity, Sirui Zhou et al, Nature Medicine.

Contact to this article:
Elin Thysell
Senior research engineer at Department of Medical Biosciences
Units: Pathology
By 6M, Sjukhusområdet
Umeå universitet, 901 85 Umeå
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
+46 90 785 44 98

Read more about the PREDICT initiative here:


Emmanuelle Charpentier took the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Emmanuelle has been awarded jointly with Jennifer Doudna the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. She is a former group leader at MIMS, honorary doctor at Umeå University and former visiting professor at UCMR.

Movie by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (

Battling antibiotic resistance

movie by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, with participation of scientists from MIMS and UCMR:
Or watch the original movie on:

Research about infectious diseases:

Oliver Billker in movie of Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation:
Or watch the original movie on:

footer all slides 2014-02-06

Copyright © 2019 by The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS). All rights reserved.