Israeli scientists have identified the viral proteins that trigger strokes and heart attacks in COVID-19 patients in a breakthrough they expect will pave the way for new drugs.
The researchers made the discovery by taking a “look in the black box of the virus,” said Dr. Ben Maoz from Tel Aviv University to The Times of Israel and explained that his team analyzed all 29 proteins in the virus to find out which of them are causing chaos in the vascular system.
“Coronavirus is not the pure respiratory disease we first thought, and we have identified the proteins that put patients at increased risk for stroke, heart attack and other problems associated with the vascular system,” Maoz said.
He identified the five proteins in SARS-CoV-2 that lead to vascular problems in the peer-reviewed journal eLife.
“This work could very well help researchers develop drugs to counteract the effects of coronavirus on the vascular system by providing an understanding of exactly which proteins or parts of the virus are causing problems,” Maoz said.
His laboratory, which focuses on biomedical engineering and neuroscience, collaborated with other departments at Tel Aviv University to create a simulation of a human vascular system and observe the effects of all 29 coronavirus proteins. Based on their analysis, they were able to identify which of them affected the vascular system – and how.
“We have not only discovered which proteins have an impact on the vascular system, but also seen how precisely they exert their effect,” Maoz said. “What we found is that these specific proteins make your vasculature more leaky. The tubes become more porous and may not contain fluid as you would hope. This information is also valuable in drug development efforts.”
Maoz hopes to lay the groundwork for a more nuanced treatment of coronavirus.
“To this day, the virus has been treated as a single entity, despite affecting different parts of the body in different ways,” he said.
“All evidence shows that the virus severely damages the blood vessels or endothelial cells lining the blood vessels. I hope our research will prove useful in enabling more targeted treatment.”