Coronavirus can transform pancreas cell function; certain genes may protect an infected person's spouse
By Nancy Lapid
(Reuters) - Below is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. This includes research that warrants further studies to confirm the results and that has yet to be certified through peer review.
Coronavirus changes the cell function of the pancreas
When the coronavirus infects cells, it not only impairs their activity, but can also change their function, new findings suggest. For example, when insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas become infected with the virus, not only do they produce much less insulin than usual, but they also start producing glucose and digestive enzymes, which is not their job, researchers found. "We call this a change in cell fate," said study leader Dr. Shuibing Chen, who described the work on Tuesday at this year's virtual annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes. It's not clear if the changes are long-lasting or if they are reversible, the researchers previously noted in a report published in Cell Metabolism. Chen noted that some COVID-19 survivors developed diabetes shortly after being infected. "It is definitely worth investigating the rate of new onset diabetes patients in this COVID-19 pandemic," she said in a statement. Her team has experimented with the coronavirus in clusters of cells designed to create mini-organs or organoids that resemble the lungs, liver, intestines, heart, and nervous system. Their results suggest that cell fate / function loss can also occur in lung tissue, Chen of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York told Reuters.
Certain genes can protect the spouse of an infected patient
A study of couples in which both partners were exposed to the coronavirus but only one person was infected will help explain why some people are naturally resistant to the virus. The researchers had believed such cases were rare, but a call for volunteers who matched this profile resulted in around a thousand couples. Finally, they took blood samples from 86 couples for detailed analysis. The results suggest that resistant partners more often have genes that contribute to a more efficient activation of so-called natural killer cells (NK), which are part of the immune system's first reaction to germs. When properly activated, NKs can detect and destroy infected cells, preventing the disease from developing, the researchers said in a report published Tuesday in Frontiers in Immunology. "Our hypothesis is that the genomic variants most commonly found in the susceptible spouse lead to the production of molecules that inhibit the activation of NKs," study leader Mayana Zatz of the University of São Paulo, Brazil, said in a statement. The current study could not prove this, she added. Even if the results are confirmed by further research, the contributions of other immune mechanisms would also need to be examined, the researchers said.
Experimental pill shows promise against coronavirus variants
Laboratory studies show that Merck & Co's experimental COVID-19 oral antiviral drug, molnupiravir, is likely to be effective in patients infected with any of the known variants of the coronavirus, including the dominant, highly transmissible delta, researchers said on Wednesday in a presentation at IDWeek 2021, the virtual annual meeting of infectious disease organizations. Molnupiravir does not target the virus' spike protein, which is the target of all current COVID-19 vaccines. Instead, it targets an enzyme that the virus uses to make copies of itself. It is said to work by introducing flaws into the genetic code of the virus. The data showed the drug was most effective when given early in the course of the infection, Merck said. The company is conducting two large late-stage studies - one to treat COVID-19 and another to prevent it.
Click here for a Reuters graphic https://tmsnrt.rs/3c7R3Bl on vaccines in development.
(Reporting by Nancy Lapid and Deena Beasley; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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