We hope that our work will provide a basis for the development of novel, efficient and safe approaches to treat COVID-19 and thereby save people’s livesDr Alexander Brill, Associate Professor in Thrombosis and Haemostasis
Anti-mast cell drugs (mast cell stabilizers) are already on the market and are being used for other reasons, so clinical trials should be relatively easy and not too costly to implement. These drugs are relatively safe and unlikely to elicit some adverse effects characteristic of current therapeutic modalities.
COVID-19 is a life-threatening infection that has taken millions of lives worldwide. When the virus penetrates the body, it initiates a strong reaction resulting in impaired functioning of multiple organs. The lungs are among the most vulnerable targets of the virus and that is why many patients with COVID-19 have problems with breathing. Understanding the mechanisms through which the virus produces its debilitating effects, is important for developing new strategies to effectively treat patients and prevent further deterioration in their health.
In this study, published in Frontiers in Immunology, an international team led by scientists from the University of Birmingham (Alexander Brill) and the University of Ghent, Belgium (Olga and Dmitri Krysko) have demonstrated a pivotal role of mast cells in COVID-19 infection. Mast cells belong to the immune system, they can be found in virtually every part of the body and are known for their role in allergies, for example, bronchial asthma. Mast cells contain a variety of biologically active molecules which, when appropriately released, help the organism to function properly. However, when disproportionately released in an uncontrolled manner, these molecules can inadvertently assist the virus in damaging the body.
This study reveals that the levels of substances released by mast cells are dramatically increased in patients with COVID-19 infection, and the greater the disease severity, the higher the level of the substances becomes. The lungs of people with COVID-19 have high numbers of mast cells that are alert. This “alertness” develops in parallel with increased levels of so-called von Willebrand factor, a molecule responsible for the blockage of blood vessels in the lungs and the resulting shortness of breathing or even death.
Dr Alexander Brill, one of the lead authors of this study, said “We hope that our work will provide a basis for the development of novel, efficient and safe approaches to treat COVID-19 and thereby save people’s lives”.
The main funders of this study were The British Heart Foundation (BHF) in the UK and WO-Flanders in Belgium.