A scientific breakthrough could lead to treatments that prevent Covid-19 coronavirus patients from developing life-threatening blood clots.
Researchers in Ireland have figured out how some Covid-19 patients can develop the clots – and they say the results could lead to therapies to prevent this from happening.
The work, led by researchers at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, was published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis.
Previous research has shown that blood clotting is a major cause of death in patients with Covid-19.
To understand why clotting occurs, the researchers analyzed blood samples taken from patients with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
They found that the balance between a protein that causes clotting called von Willebrand factor (VWF) and its regulator called Adamts13 is severely disrupted in patients with severe Covid-19.
Compared to control groups, the blood of Covid-19 patients had higher levels of the coagulant VWF molecules and lower levels of the anticoagulant Adamts13.
The researchers also identified other changes in proteins that caused the reduction in adamts13.
Dr. Jamie O’Sullivan, the study’s author and research fellow at the Irish Center for Vascular Biology at RCSI, said the research is helping to gain insight into the mechanisms that cause severe blood clots in patients with Covid-19.
Dr. O’Sullivan said it was critical to develop more effective treatments.
“We looked at the markers in these patients’ blood and tried to understand what causes the blood to clot,” added Dr. O’Sullivan added.
“We observed increased levels of the VWF protein.
“This is a big, sticky, sticky protein that helps bind platelets in the blood. It prevents people from bleeding excessively.
“We saw that it was really elevated in patients with Covid-19, five to six times the normal level.
“Then we looked at why the values are so high and could we reduce them or use them as therapeutic agents for patients.
“We also have this parallel with a reduced level of another protein or enzyme in the blood that normally helps regulate blood clotting, known as adamts13.
“We see that the level of this anticoagulant in the blood of patients with Covid-19 is low, which is a perfect storm for clotting complications in patients with severe infection.
“While more research is needed to determine whether targets to correct Adamts13 and VWF levels can be a successful therapeutic intervention, it is important that we continue to develop therapies for patients with Covid-19.
“It is still in its infancy and as far as I know it is being researched.”
Dr. O’Sullivan added, “Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be unavailable to many people around the world and it is important that we provide effective treatments for them and those with breakthrough infections.”
This work was supported by the Irish Covid-19 Vasculopathy Study (ICVS) through the Health Research Board’s Covid-19 Rapid Response Award, as well as a philanthropic grant from the 3M Foundation to the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences in support of Covid-19 research financed.
The research was also led by Professor James O’Donnell of RCSI and her clinical colleagues at Beaumont Hospital.