In a new study from the University of Reading, researchers found inflammation and blood clotting seen in very severe cases of COVID-19 may be caused by the antibodies sent to fight the disease.
They activate unnecessary platelet activity in the lungs.
The researchers showed how antibodies produced by the body to protect against COVID-19 are triggering increased function of platelets, which may be causing fatal blood clots in patients with severe disease.
Platelets are small cells found in the blood that form clots to stop or prevent bleeding, but where platelets don’t function properly this can lead to serious health concerns such as strokes and heart attacks.
In the study, the team took antibodies produced to fight the coronavirus’s spike protein, from people with severe COVID-19 infections, and cloned them in a lab to study.
They found that the small sugars found on the surface of these antibodies were different from antibodies from healthy individuals, and when those cloned antibodies were introduced in a lab to blood cells taken from healthy donors, there was an observed increase in platelet activity.
The team also found that it was possible to reduce or stop platelets from responding in this way in the laboratory by treating blood with active ingredients from different medications which are known to either inhibit platelet function or immune responses.
The findings suggest that it may be possible for drugs that are currently used to treat immune system problems to reduce or stop the cells from producing an exaggerated platelet response.
The team is already testing these drugs in clinical trials with patients at hospital sites across the UK to see whether they will reduce serious clotting for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
They hope they can both inhibit the inflammatory response and prevent severe disease and blood clots.
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The study is published in Blood. One author of the study is Professor Jon Gibbins.