Mini lab-grown organs show how coronavirus ravages the human body

  • Clusters of organ tissue allow for observation of viral particle activity
  • The coronavirus targets specific types of cells in lung tissue
  • Researchers are able to test different treatments on organoids

Lung, liver, and kidney damage from coronavirus has been further elaborated by the use of miniature organs grown in a lab. 

These small-scale guts, or organoids, are allowing researchers to determine whether the intense organ damage caused by coronavirus is a direct result of the virus or an unfortunate byproduct of it wreaking havoc on the human body. These are collections of replicated organ tissue rather than scaled replicas, but they still allow researchers to test the effects of different treatments on coronavirus in various organs.

Organoids have so far allowed researchers to determine that there is a difference between the types of cells pursued by the virus, although they aren’t quite sure why. Testing shows that viral particles will target cells that are meant to replenish the epithelium of lung tissue but not protective cells like “club cells.” Further research will focus on whether the virus can spread from basal cells to other types of cells and how to subdue the immune reaction known as a “cytokine storm,” which can ravage organs. 

COVID-19 can also affect the cells which line blood vessels, allowing the virus to travel through the body via the cardiovascular system. Another study using liver organoids showed that viral particles can directly attack the tissues, resulting in liver damage. Kidney cells were also shown to become infected and some tissue destroyed in the process. That mimics what is seen in coronavirus patients, although it’s difficult to tell how much kidney damage is from preexisting conditions or the virus. 

Previously, organoids have been used to observe how the Zika virus interacted with fetal development and microcephaly, as well as brain development in brain organoids. 

Sources: Nature, Harvard Medicine

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