Lung autopsies provide a clearer picture of how SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads and causes damage

Lung autopsy and plasma samples from COVID-19 victims have provided a better understanding of the virus’ spread and the damage it causes to lung tissue. The National Institutes of Health and its collaborators believe that the data published in Science Translational Medicine could help to predict severe and prolonged cases of COVID-19, particularly for those at high risk, and inform effective treatments.

While the study was limited–lung samples from 18 cases and plasma samples from six instances–the researchers say their results revealed patterns that could help develop new COVID-19 therapeutics and fine-tune when to use existing treatments at different stages of disease progression. The findings provide details on the way in which SARS-CoV-2 virus causes COVID-19, can be spread through the lungs and alters the immune system. It triggers widespread thrombosis, which will not resolve and targets signaling pathways that promote lung fibrosis, failure to breathe, and slow the recovery of tissue. Researchers say that the data can be used to provide care for COVID-19 patients who have diabetes, are elderly or obese. These are all high-risk groups for serious cases. The study samples came from patients with at least one condition that was high-risk.

The study included patients who passed away between March and July 2020, with dates of death ranging from 3 to 47 days after the symptoms started. This varying time frame allowed scientists to compare short intermediate, long-term and short cases. All cases revealed evidence of an alveolar injury that was diffuse that causes an increase in the flow of oxygen to the blood. This eventually causes lungs to become stiff and thick.

They also discovered that SARS-CoV-2 directly affected basal epithelial cells inside the lungs, hindering their essential purpose of healing damaged airways and lungs and creating healthy tissue. The process is distinct from the way influenza viruses attack the cells in the lungs. This provides scientists with additional information to be able to develop or evaluation of antiviral treatments.

Researchers at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases directed the research in collaboration with the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other collaborators included the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle; University of Illinois, Champaign; Saint John’s Cancer Institute located in Santa Monica, California. The USC Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles; University of Washington Harborview Medical Center; University of Vermont Medical Center Burlington; Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Journal reference:

et. and. (2021). Lung epithelial, endothelial, and tissue damage, loss of tissue recovery in the absence of fibrinolysis, and the cellular senescence of COVID-19 in fatal cases. Science Translational Medicine.

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Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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