Menu

Scientists ID Coronavirus Proteins That Harm Blood Vessels

Evidence shows that the virus severely damages the blood vessels or the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels.

A team of Israeli experts has solved the mystery of which proteins in the SARS-CoV-2 virus are responsible for severe vascular damage in COVID-19 patients.

The novel coronavirus is made up of 29 proteins. Five of those proteins were identified as damaging to blood vessels in a study led by Tel Aviv University researchers Ben Maoz (biomedical engineering and neuroscience), professor Uri Ashery (life sciences and neuroscience) and professor Roded Sharan (computer science).

“We see a very high incidence of vascular disease and blood clotting, for example stroke and heart attack, among COVID patients,” said Maoz.

“We tend to think of COVID as primarily a respiratory disease, but the truth is that coronavirus patients are up to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack,” he said.

Dr. Ben Maoz of Tel Aviv University. (Courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

“All the evidence shows that the virus severely damages the blood vessels or the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. We wanted to find out which proteins in the virus are responsible for this type of damage.”

Also participating in the study were Rossana Rauti, Yael Bardoogo, and Meishar Shahoah of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Yaakov Nahmias of the Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University. The results were published in the journal eLife.

“Our research could help find targets for a drug that will be used to stop the virus’ activity, or at least minimize damage to blood vessels” in COVID-19 patients, said Maoz.

In another recent development, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have been working on a new approach to the novel coronavirus: a chemical “cork” that plugs up the opening the SARS CoV-2 virus uses to attach to cells in the body.

The approach is very different than the way most of the current batch of COVID-19 vaccines work. The latter target the spike protein on the virus’ outer envelope. That has worked well in attenuating the contagiousness and serious disease from the original version of the virus, but that protein is prone to mutations that erode the efficacy of the vaccines — as the recent Delta surge has proven.

“Since the virus is constantly evolving, we have instead focused on the non-evolving human receptor called ACE2,” said professor Gideon Schreiber of the Weizmann’s Biomolecular Sciences Department, who supervised the new study.

As a result, Schreiber’s “super cork” approach should not be susceptible to current or emerging virus variants.

Produced in association with Israel21C.