COVID-19 fattens up our body’s cells to help fuel its viral takeover, with some fats increasing to 64-times their normal levels, new research suggests.
Scientists say the virus that causes COVID-19 undertakes a massive takeover of the body’s fat processing system, creating cellular storehouses of fat that empower it to hijack the body’s molecular machinery and cause disease.
With that in mind, they tried using weight-loss drugs and other fat-targeting compounds to try to stop the virus in cell culture.
Cut off from its fatty fuel, the virus stopped replicating within 48 hours, according to research published in the Nature Communications scientific journal.
The new study comes as infections rose in all four UK nations, with about 1.7 million having the virus last week.
“This is exciting work, but it’s the start of a very long journey,” said Fikadu Tafesse, the corresponding author of the study and assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Oregon Health & Science University.
“We have an interesting observation, but we have a lot more to learn about the mechanisms of this disease.”
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The scientists involved in the study cautioned that the results with weight-loss drugs were in cell culture, not in people.
The team embarked on the study based on observations that people with a high body-mass index (BMI) and conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes are more sensitive to COVID-19.
They studied the effect of SARS-CoV-2 on more than 400 lipids (fats are a subgroup of lipids) in two different human cell lines.
Scientists found a massive shift in lipid levels, with some fats increasing as much as 64-fold.
In one cell line, nearly 80% of fats were altered by the virus; in the other, levels of slightly more than half were changed.