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Study shows how COVID-19 attacks brain cells, possibly causing long-term damage

COVID-19 ventilator
Posted at 11:45 AM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 11:45:47-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - New research from the UC San Diego School of Medicine shows how COVID-19 affects organs differently.

According to a study published in Stem Cell Reports, the disease replicates in the lungs ten times more than in the brain.

Still, it may be more harmful to the brain.

"Even though viral infection is much less in the brain, the lower infection led to the pathways to kill those cells," says Dr. Tariq Rana, the UC San Diego Professor who led the study.

Dr. Rana's lab used stem cells to create mini-organs of the brain and cells. They then infected the mini-organoids with a "pseudovirus," a non-infectious version of SARS-CoV-2.

They found the virus could bind to lung cells and replicate far more than in the brain.

However, the brain's response to the virus may make it more dangerous to the Central Nervous System than previously thought.

When infected, the brain mini-organ increased its production of the TLR3 Molecule, which helps to recognize diseases and activates immunity.

That molecule also helps facilitate programmed cell death.

"That could lead to toxic effects in the brain," Dr. Rana says. He adds this may explain why people who have COVID-19 report symptoms like "Brain Fog."

The CDC estimates 30% of people who get COVID-19 report some kind of neurological problem.

Dr. Rana's research led to a larger grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine to continue the study. Dr. Rana says his lab will look into treatment options.

They also plan to expand their research to include stem cells from people of different ethnicity. He hopes to find how the disease affects people differently based on their race.

This story originally reported by Jared Aarons on 10News.com.

Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering