The symptoms of covid-19 often affect the respiratory and digestive systems, so it makes sense to suppose that the virus may target cells in those parts of the body. Now researchers at MIT, Harvard, and elsewhere have identified specific types of cells in the lungs, nasal passages, and intestines that are particularly susceptible.
The research, led by chemistry professor and IMES researcher Alex K. Shalek and former postdoc Jose Ordovas-Montanes (now at Boston Children’s Hospital), grew out of other scientists’ work showing that the virus takes advantage of two human receptor proteins, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and TMPRSS2, to bind to host cells and get inside them. Using existing data, they were able to search for cells that express RNA for those proteins much more than others do, meaning they are more likely to produce the proteins and thus be more vulnerable to the virus. These include mucus-producing cells in the nasal passages, lung cells responsible for keeping the alveoli (air sacs) open, and intestinal cells responsible for absorbing certain nutrients.
Much of the data came from labs participating in the Human Cell Atlas, a project to catalogue patterns of gene activity for every cell type in the body. “Because we have this incredible repository of information, we were able to begin to look at what would be likely target cells,” Shalek says. “Even though these data sets weren’t designed specifically to study covid, it’s hopefully given us a jump-start.”
The data could help scientists working on new covid-19 treatments or testing drugs that could be repurposed. “Our goal is to get information out to the community and to share data as soon as is humanly possible,” Shalek says.
This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting
With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.
VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence
On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.
This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it.
Greg Rutkowski is a more popular prompt than Picasso.
This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine
Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.