A new study sheds light on why obese people are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, requiring hospitalization, and even dying from the novel coronavirus.
A breakthrough discovery
In a recently published study in the preprint database bioRxiv, a group of scientists determined how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with fat cells, also known as adipocytes. The researchers examined the adipose tissue of some patients who died of COVID-19 and found that particles of the novel coronavirus were in the fats around their organs.
To better understand the discovery, the researchers collected adipose tissue from bariatric surgery and experimented with how it would interact with the coronavirus. The scientists found that fat cells could be infected with the virus and even develop a little bit of inflammation. The immune cells found in adipose tissue, macrophages, also became susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and led to a more intense immune response.
The discovery led the team to speculate that SARS-CoV-2 could turn adipose tissue into a kind of reservoir if it hides from the immune system.
Impact of the study
The study has yet to be peer-reviewed and reviewed by other medical experts and critics, but it does provide a possible explanation for why obese people are at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19.
“This could well contribute to a serious illness. We see the same inflammatory cytokines that I see in the blood of the really sick patients, produced in response to an infection in those patients [fat] Tissue, ”said senior author Dr. Catherine Blish of the New York Times Stanford University School of Medicine.
Philipp Scherer, a scientist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas who was not involved in the study, also told the Times that the team’s results showed that the virus could in fact “infect fat cells directly”.
Prior to the discovery, the medical community turned to some theories to justify the increased risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes in obese people. One of them suggested that excessive belly fat presses against the diaphragm and restricts airflow in the lungs.
Another theory focused on the properties of blood based on its composition. The blood of overweight people is said to clot much more easily due to its higher fat content. According to Live Science, one of the manifestations of severe COVID-19 in some people is extensive blood clotting.