A new study from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, may suggest what cells the new coronavirus targets. Because most patients suffer from respiratory and digestive symptoms, researchers were able to narrow their focus on where in the body their research would be focused on. MIT professor and the study’s co-author Alex Shalek said the goal of the study, was “to get information out to the community and to share data as soon as humanly possible, so that we can accelerate ongoing efforts in the scientific and medical communities”.
The researchers claimed that past studies and datasets proved helpful, by giving them a head start on what cells they thought would be the targets cells for COVID-19. The study was able to build on previous studies, that concluded that the new coronavirus uses two proteins that act as receptors and once attached, invade and duplicate within that target cell. The researchers pinpointed which cells in the body, produced those two proteins and discovered their area of focus should be the nasal passages, small intestine and lungs.
In the intestine “absorptive enterocyte” cells are responsible for absorbing nutrients, appear to be the most vulnerable. In the lung’s “type II pneumocytes” lining small air sacks in the lungs, were the most vulnerable. In the nasal passage “goblet secretory cells” known for producing mucus, have the required proteins the virus attacks.
These discoveries are not the only breakthrough these researchers have had, as they have also concluded that COVID-19 attacks interferon, which is described as a protein that helps the body fight diseases. Researchers have cautioned however, that while their studies show certain results of the affects the coronavirus has on interferon, a definitive answer cannot be reasonably established until controlled clinical trails are conducted. The findings will be published by the journal Cell. The next step researchers wish to continue with, “is profiling tissue models, with the identified vulnerable calls”. The hope is, those tests, will yield favorable results, and will be approved for antiviral drug treatments against the COVID-19 infection.
With the U.S. recently surpassing over 12 million confirmed coronavirus cases, research and clinical trials have never been more important to saving lives. Fortunately, researchers and HCPs are becoming more familiar with COVID-19 with each passing day. Through their hard work and dedication, it is only a matter of “when” a vaccine will be created and not “if”.