Researchers Discover How Coronavirus Triggers Silent Hypoxia

December 14, 2020 14:20:19

There are some aspects of the coronavirus that scientists do not know enough about, seeing as it’s a completely new virus that attacks the lungs as well as other parts of the body. However, the strides that have been made in the last few months with regard to research — and now a vaccine — are a clear indication that researchers are working hard to discover as much as they can.

Recently, University of Vermont collaborators and biomedical engineers from Boston University discovered have studied how the coronavirus causes silent hypoxia in patients. Hypoxia is a condition that causes abnormally low oxygen levels in the body, which can cause irreparable damage to vital organs, especially if not detected early.

Many severe coronavirus patients show no symptoms of shortness of breath symptoms or difficulty breathing, despite experiencing very low oxygen levels. Scientists believe that the COVID-19 infection first damages a patient’s lungs, making it hard for them to function normally. This causes the lung tissue to lose oxygen and stop working, which means that the patient’s bloodstream is no longer being supplied with oxygen, causing silent hypoxia.

Bela Suki, an author of the study who is also a Boston College professor of materials science, engineering and biomedical engineering, explained that some patients with coronavirus displayed almost no signs of abnormalities, despite the fact that, when tested, their blood oxygen levels were termed “incompatible with life.”

Through the use of computer modeling, biomedical engineers from Boston University were able to find out what led to silent hypoxia. The researchers tested three different scenarios to help explain why and how the lungs stopped infusing oxygen to a patient’s bloodstream. The lead author of the study, biomedical engineer Jacob Herrmann, discovered that a combination of biological mechanisms, which may take place simultaneously in the lungs of patients with the coronavirus infection, may be the cause of silent hypoxia.  This research was reported in the “Nature Communications” journal.

Suki, Herrmann and the team of researchers also discovered that for the levels of oxygen in the blood to decrease to the levels seen in patients with the coronavirus infection, the flow of blood would have to be significantly higher than normal in parts of the lungs where oxygen was no longer being infused. This, they said, could contribute to low oxygen levels throughout the patient’s body.

Additionally, the researchers used computer modeling of the lungs to look into how blood clotting may affect the flow of blood to different parts of the lungs. They discovered that while this may encourage silent hypoxia, blood clotting by itself would not be enough to cause a decline in oxygen levels to the levels recorded in patients with the COVID-19 infection.

The researchers also discovered that a mismatched air-to-blood ratio, which occurs in other respiratory ailments, may also be a contributor to the silent and severe hypoxia that has been detected in coronavirus patients.

The researchers’ findings suggest that all three factors combined may be the culprit responsible for the severe low-oxygen levels observed in some coronavirus patients. Suki explained that understanding these underlying mechanisms better and knowing that these combinations are different for different patients would go a long way in helping clinicians decide on the proper form of treatment that a patient would require.

COVID-19 isn’t the only disease giving biomedical firms sleepless nights. AzurRx BioPharma Inc. (NASDAQ: AZRX) has set its sights on developing treatments for diseases that affect the gastrointestinal system. The company’s advanced stage clinical trials are promising to bring to market novel therapies.

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