Coronavirus can cause “complete disruption of the lung architecture”, a health expert has warned.
The professor of cardiovascular science studied the autopsies of patients who died in Italy after 30 to 40 days in intensive care and discovered large amounts of the virus persisting in lungs as well as large numbers of fused cells.
He told the Lords Science and Technology Committee on Monday: “What you find in the lungs of people who have stayed with the disease for more than a month before dying is something completely different from normal pneumonia, influenza or the Sars virus.
“You see massive thrombosis. There is a complete disruption of the lung architecture – in some lights you can’t even distinguish that it used to be a lung.”
Prof Giacca warned that Covid-19 had the potential to create “real problems” for survivors of the disease.
He said anti-viral therapy might work in the early phases of the illness, but admitted it was unlikely to provide a cure for patients.
“There are large numbers of very big fused cells which are virus positive with as many as 10, 15 nuclei,” he said.
“I am convinced this explains the unique pathology of Covid-19. This is not a disease caused by a virus which kills cells, which had profound implications for therapy.”
A new drug aimed at preventing the lung damage and blood clots caused by Covid-19 is set to be trialled in UK hospitals.
The drug, a molecule known as TRV027, targets specific cell pathways that are thought to drive severe illness in patients.
Medics have suggested that up to a third of patients who are seriously ill with coronavirus are developing dangerous blood clots, which is one reason why people are dying.
Severe inflammation in the lungs, a natural response of the body to the virus, is thought to be behind formation of the clots.
Some 60 patients in UK hospitals will take part in the trial for the drug, which is supported by researchers at the British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence at Imperial College London.
The study will follow patients for eight days during a critical period when some patients suddenly get worse and go on to need treatment in intensive care, often with ventilation.
Dr Kat Pollock, senior clinical research fellow in vaccinology and honorary consultant at Imperial College London, who is jointly leading the study, said: “We need to move away from thinking of Covid-19 as solely a respiratory illness – it also has devastating effects on the rest of the body, including the blood vessels and heart.
“When this infection was first described, we were surprised to learn that people with heart and circulatory diseases appeared to be at risk.
“Our study will play an important role in understanding the mechanisms which make Covid-19 so dangerous and offers a potential treatment.”