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Covid-19 severity in elderly

Date: 21 August 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Researchers have published findings that provide one more clue about the reason why Covid-19 infection tends to be more severe with age. 

 

Background

Certain genes in the body, which play an important role in allowing the novel coronavirus SARS-Cov-2 to invade heart cells, become more active with age.

 

Details

  • When the novel coronavirus first emerged, it was taken to be primarily a respiratory illness. But as research has progressed, it has become clear that Covid-19 patients, particularly older ones, are also affected by heart problems.

  • An international team of researcher investigated the link between Covid-19 and heart failure. Specifically, they examined cells known as cardiomyocytes, which make up the heart muscle and are able to contract and relax. Damage to these cells can lead to heart failure.

  • The researchers compared cardiomyocytes from five young (ages 19-25) males and five older (63-78) males.

  • They found that the genes that give the body instructions to make key proteins that the virus uses to hijack the cell, known as ACE2 receptors — were significantly more active in cardiomyocytes from the older males.

  • This suggests that there is likely to be an increase in the corresponding proteins in aged cardiomyocytes.

  • Cardiomyocytes make up the heart muscle and are able to contract and relax, enabling the heart to pump blood around the body. Damage to these cells can affect the ability of the heart muscles to perform, leading to heart failure.

  • To cause damage, the virus must first enter the cell. SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus - spherical in shape with 'spike' proteins on its surface, which it uses to gain entry. The spike protein binds to ACE2, a protein receptor found on the surface of certain cells.

  • This makes these cells more vulnerable to damage by the virus and could be one reason why age is a major risk factor in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2.

  • The study also suggests new targets for medicines that could be developed such as compounds blocking binding of the virus to ACE2 that may be beneficial in protecting the heart.