Professor Peter Wark wins prestigious 2022 Fukuchi Award

Aug 20 2022

Lots of research has been done and continues to be done into COVID-19, and a surprising discovery came out of research led by HMRI researcher and senior specialist in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at John Hunter Hospital, Professor Peter Wark, into COVID-19 in 2021: people with asthma were less likely to have a severe version of the disease.

His research also discovered that older people and those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) were at greater risk.

These research results were published in a paper he co-authored in the international journal Respirology in January 2021 and this year has garnered an award from the same journal, the prestigious Fukuchi Award.

The award recognises outstanding work by researchers and described Professor Wark’s work as ‘significant.’

The research investigated the expression of a gene which plays a role in COVID-19 that is in the airway of patients.

The research was done because data from around the world has shown older people, men and those suffering from chronic lung conditions have suffered more from COVID-19 and have a higher rate of death.

A cell surface receptor called ACE2 allows the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, to enter the cells of the respiratory system.

The research project involved researchers from all over Australia and involved obtaining Airway Epithelial Cells (AEC) which were analysed in order to determine the amount of ACE2 gene expression present.

Patients included people suffering from Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). 

The research team found increased ACE2 gene expression in older people (P = 0.03) and in men (P = 0.03).

This suggests that increased ACE2 expression in airway cells may allow the virus to spread to the lungs more easily, and this can lead to more serious COVID-19 infection.  

The team also found that ACE2 expression was lower in people with Asthma (P = 0.01) which indicates people with Asthma are at less risk of severe illness if they become infected with COVID-19. This was a surprising result as Asthma sufferers were assumed to be vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19 due to their poor response to other respiratory viruses.

Professor Wark believes the research has identified that manipulating the level of ACE2 expression in the lower respiratory tract could be a potential therapeutic option to fight COVID-19. 

The award will be formally presented at the 2022 Congress of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology (APPR) in Seoul, Korea, 17-20 November 2022.

More information on Professor Wark’s research here: Research into how COVID-19 affects asthma sufferers

The full paper is available now in the journal Respirology.