Men with heart failure appear to have higher concentrations of a protein in their blood that enables coronavirus to infect healthy cells, scientists have said.

Researchers looked at patients in their 60s and 70s from 11 European countries and measured the concentrations of the protein, known as ACE2, in their plasma, which is the liquid part of blood. They believe their results may help to explain why men with heart failure are more likely to die after contracting Covid-19 than women.

Dr Iziah Sama, from University Medical Centre Groningen in the Netherlands, and first author of the study, said: “When we found that one of the strongest biomarkers, ACE2, was much higher in men than in women, I realised that this had the potential to explain why men were more likely to die from Covid-19 than women.”

The researchers also found that levels of ACE2 in the blood were not affected by the drugs commonly used to treat blood pressure.

Dr Adriaan Voors, professor of cardiology at the University Medical Centre Groningen, said: “Our findings do not support the discontinuation of these drugs in Covid-19 patients as has been suggested by earlier reports.”

The researchers measured ACE2 concentrations in blood samples taken from two groups of heart failure patients, with 1,485 men and 537 women in the first group and 1,123 men and 575 women in the second.

However, the team point out that their conclusions were mainly restricted to heart failure patients who did not have Covid-19. This means they cannot provide a direct link between the disease and ACE2 concentrations in the plasma.

Commenting on the research, Prof Ian Hall, director of the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, University of Nottingham, who was not involved in the work, said: “The study has been carefully performed and the number of subjects included is reasonably large so the results are likely to be generalisable to the real-world setting.”

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