In around 18 months since the COVID pandemic broke out from China, numerous studies have been undertaken across the world to ascertain the full impact of the SARS-CoV2 virus on the human body. But the enigma seems to be far from being fully unravelled. Now there are reports and studies emerging to suggest that the coronavirus infection may also lead to diabetes in the patients.
But the question is: didn’t coronavirus target the lungs only? Well, yes. But, no.
When the COVID pandemic hit mankind, we were told that old-age people were its prime target who could more likely succumb to it. Soon enough co-morbidity turned out to be the evil that could also be assisting the COVID virus in the killing. But that was the end of the episode of flawed certainty. Then young people died. People with no co-morbidity died. And even old and co-morbid ones survived. That’s because this is a ‘novel’ coronavirus. It will take years of studies to know all about it. The same goes for the human body. We don’t know everything about how our body fights out pathogens.
Several COVID patients developed diabetes: Studies
So the latest studies claim that some of the coronavirus patients who did not have diabetes before the infection developed the disease after their recovery. Some of them reported hyperglycemia during their stay at the hospital. How did this happen? Did the virus affect the other parts of the human body as well?
Stem cell biologist Shuibing Chen from Weill Cornell Medicine in the US and Biochemist Peter Jackson from the Stanford University School of Medicine started their independent investigations to trace the cause of hyperglycemia (excessive sugar in blood) in the COVID patients and published their analyses in the Cell Metabolism Journal.
In their investigations, they found that coronavirus may also affect the beta cells of the pancreas in our body which make insulin – the hormone that allows the body to use glucose for energy. The infection of the beta cells was confirmed by the autopsy of the patients who had died due to COVID.
How COVID virus infects beta cells of the pancreas?
Now one of the possible journeys of the virus from the lungs to the pancreas has been explained as its discharge from the lung alveoli to the blood vessels after the damage of the lung tissue due to pneumonia. Once the virus enters the blood circulation it can easily travel to the other parts of the body: from the pancreas to the liver to the brain to the kidneys, any part.
Chen and Jackson observed that the beta cells affected by the COVID virus had stopped the production of insulin. It could either be due to apoptosis (cell suicide) or transdifferentiation (conversion of type of cell) caused by SARS-CoV-2 infections.
Scientists are now trying to find a way to prevent the possible causes of the destruction of the pancreatic beta cells, either with the help of a chemical compound or drug that could check the process of apoptosis and transdifferentiation, or blocking the protein receptor neuropilin-1 which helps SARS-CoV-2 invade the beta cells.
(The story has been sourced and rephrased from www.nationalgeographic.com)