Earlier Thursday morning, we shared a report about a strange phenomenon unfolding at hospitals and emergency rooms across the US. Even as COVID cases continue to fall, emergency rooms across the country have become absolutely packed with patients seeking treatment for abdominal pain, blood clots, heart conditions and respiratory problems. All of these symptoms line up with the wide range of official COVID symptoms reported by the CDC. But, as the news reports state, the cause of this sudden wave, which has led to some patients being treated again in hospital hallways, remains officially unclear.
More than 18 months after it first emerged from Wuhan, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, remains an enigma to scientists, who have been conducting a wide range of studies to try and learn more about how the virus does what it does. One of COVID's most notable features is its ability to cause damage not just to patient's respiratory system, but to the heart and vascular system as well. Oftentimes, this damage leaves patients with long-lasting symptoms that persist well beyond the initial infection.
Even before it became the first nation on the planet to vaccinate nearly its entire population (it has been doling out booster jabs since August), Israel has been a leading source of COVID-related research. And the latest pioneering study produced by researchers from a range of disciplines (from epidemiology to computer science) at Tel Aviv University certainly raises some interesting questions, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.
The researchers have become the first on earth to identify which 5 of the 29 proteins that form the SARS-CoV-2 virus are responsible for damaging patients' blood vessels'
...[A] team of Tel Aviv University researchers have identified the five proteins of the 29 that form the virus which are responsible for damaging blood vessels.
"We see a very high incidence of vascular disease and blood clotting, for example, stroke and heart attack among COVID patients," says Dr. Ben Maoz, lead author of the study published in the journal eLife.
"We tend to think of COVID as primarily a respiratory disease but the truth is that coronavirus patients are up to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack,” he added. “All the evidence shows that the virus severely damages the blood vessels or the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. However, to this day, the virus has been treated as one entity. We wanted to find out which proteins in the virus are responsible for this type of damage."
The study was carried out using novel methods: researchers came together to insert different sequences of viral RNA into human blood vessels in a lab, and observed the reaction. In this manner, they were able to deduce which proteins caused the most damage to tissue from the vascular system. In particular, they found which proteins are responsible for doing the most damage to the human vascular system.
"When the coronavirus enters the body, it begins to produce 29 proteins, a new virus is formed, then that virus produces 29 new proteins, and so on," Maoz said.
"In this process, our blood vessels turn from opaque tubes into kind of permeable nets or pieces of cloth, and in parallel there is an increase in blood clotting. We thoroughly examined the effect of each of the 29 proteins expressed by the virus, and were successful in identifying the five specific proteins that cause the greatest damage to endothelial cells and hence to vascular stability and function."
To help model and verify its findings, the team used computational models to discern exactly which proteins had the greatest impact on the human tissue.
As the scientists said the hope is that this insight will help humanity develop a better understanding of how the virus causes so much damage to the heart and blood vessels.
"Our research could help find targets for a drug that will be used to stop the virus’s activity, or at least minimize damage to blood vessels."
But, what if it instead raises questions about the vaccines scientists have developed, which rely on viral RNA to "reprogram" the human immune system?