Coronavirus 'infects brain by hijacking cells to make copies of itself', US study finds

  • london
  • September 11, 2020
  • Comments Off on Coronavirus 'infects brain by hijacking cells to make copies of itself', US study finds

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Coronavirus can poison the brain by hijacking cells to make copies of itself, a new US study has found.

The research, which has yet to be peer reviewed, found evidence of Covid-19 taking up oxygen and thereby starving neighbouring cells to death in the brain.

Doctors have shown how the virus mainly targets the lungs, but also other organs such as the kidneys, liver and blood cells.

But some patients have also reported neurological symptoms such as headaches, confusion and delirium.

In this new study, co-led by Akiko Iwasaki, immunologist at Yale University, the scientists used small lab-grown brains from human cells known as ‘organoids’ and mice to study the affect the virus has on the brain.

They discovered “clear evidence” that the organoids took over the machinery of the brains and appeared to poison the environment around it.

The authors wrote in the study: “The hypermetabolic state is unique to the SARS-CoV-2 infected cells and highlights the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to hijack the host neuron machinery to replicate.”

Coronavirus infecting a cell – In pictures

Dr Iwasaki told the New York Times: “If the brain does become infected, it could have a lethal consequence.”

She added: “It’s kind of a silent infection. This virus has a lot of evasion mechanisms.”

It comes after experts at the University College London’s Institute of Neurology warned serious and potentially fatal brain conditions linked to coronavirus may be going unnoticed by doctors.

The team of scientists studied 43 patients who developed disorders ranging from psychosis to stroke after contracting Covid-19.

The study, published in the journal Brain, found a worrying rise in acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (Adem), a life-threatening condition, during the first wave of coronavirus in Britain.

Of these, 12, had inflammation of the central nervous system, 10 were treated with delirium or psychosis, eight had strokes and a further eight had peripheral nerve problems, mostly Guillain-Barré which can cause paralysis. Some 1 in 20 cases are fatal, NHS England said.

Michael Zandi, a senior author on the study and a consultant at the institute urged GPs, physicians and healthcare workers to refer Covid-19 patients with cognitive symptoms, memory loss, fatigue, numbness or weakness to refer cases to neurologists.