New information from researchers at the University of Waterloo and McMaster University is challenging previous ideas on how COVID-19 spreads in individuals.
According to a release from UW, SARS-COV-2 was previously thought to enter the body by infiltrating a receptor on the surface of cells called ACE2, infecting the lungs. Now, researchers have found there are low levels of ACE2 within the lungs, contradicting previous theories on how COVID-19 impacts the lungs.
“Finding such low levels of ACE2 in lung tissue has important implications for how we think about this virus.” said Andrew Doxey, Professor of Biology at the University of Waterloo and research co-lead, in the release. “ACE2 is not the full story and may be more relevant in other tissues such as the vascular system.”
Jeremy Hirota is a co-lead scientist of the team from the Research Institute of St. Joe’s Hamilton and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at McMaster. He says these findings are slightly controversial as it suggests the virus must be entering the body through other receptors into the lungs.
“We were surprised that the fundamental characterization of the candidate receptors in human lung tissue had not yet been done in a systematic way with modern technologies.” said Hirota in the release.
The findings from this research have been published within the European Respiratory Journal, and the team has received grants from various sources, including the Ontario government, to produce an ongoing study looking at individuals' nasal swabs.
By studying swabs, researchers will be able to find additional pathways the virus could take into the body, and determine based on genetics who would be more at risk of developing serious complications.
“It is clear that some individuals respond better than others to the same SARS-CoV-2 virus. The differential response to the same virus suggests that each individual patient, with their unique characteristics, heavily influences COVID-19 disease severity,” said Hirota in the release.
“We think it is the lung immune system that differs between COVID-19 patients, and by understanding which patients’ lung immune systems are helpful and which are harmful, we may be able to help physicians proactively manage the most at risk-patients.”
Researchers hope to develop predictive algorithms with the data they collect to help provide more effective care to COVID-19 patients and create diagnostic devices for doctors.