Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles are the first to create a version of COVID-19 in mice that shows how the disease damages organs other than the lungs.
Using their model, the scientists discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could shut down energy production in cells of the heart, kidneys, spleen and other organs, a press release from the University said.
The lead author for the research paper, published in the journal JCI Insight on Dec. 7, 2020, is Dr. Arjun Deb and the co-author is Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami, an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a member of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center.
Deb who is a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA believes this mouse model is a powerful tool for studying SARS-CoV-2 in a living system.
“Understanding how this virus can hijack our cells might eventually lead to new ways to prevent or treat the organ failure that can accompany COVID-19 in humans,” Deb is quoted saying in the press release.
The same model could also help researchers learn more about other similar viruses that might emerge in the future, and it could be useful for testing eventual treatments, Deb adds.
The researchers believe that COVID-19 patients who have organs other than the lungs involved are most at risk of a bad outcome. So they felt it necessary to understand how the virus affects these other organs.
Although the findings do not have immediate implications for treating COVID-19, Deb said the mouse model will be useful for ongoing studies on how the virus infects vital organs other than the lungs, and for trials of new drugs to treat the disease.
According to information in the press release:
Research in humans has suggested that SARS-CoV-2 can circulate through the bloodstream to reach multiple organs. So in the UCLA experiment, the researchers first engineered mice to have the human version of ACE2 (the protein that allows the corona virus to enter the body) in the heart and other vital organs.
Then, they infected half of the animals by injecting SARS-CoV-2 into their bloodstreams. Over the following days, the researchers tracked the animals’ overall health and analyzed how levels of certain genes and proteins in their bodies changed.
The infected animals showed similar symptoms that have been observed in people who are critically ill with COVID-19 – like altered levels of immune cells, swelling of the heart tissue and wasting away of the spleen.
Deb’s team also looked at which genes were turned on and off in the mice infected with SARS-CoV-2, and they discovered other signs of disease. Common molecular processes that help cells generate energy were shut off in the heart, kidney, spleen and lungs.
“If a virus snuffs out the energy-generating pathways in multiple organs of the body, that’s going to really wreak havoc,” said Deb.
The study also revealed that some changes were long-lasting throughout the organs in mice with COVID-19.
Deb, who is also a cardiologist and professor of molecular cell and developmental biology believes that could explain why, in some people with COVID-19, symptoms persist for weeks or months after their bodies are rid of the virus.
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and two UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine–Broad Stem Cell Research Center COVID-19 research awards.