In a new study, researchers found the COVID-19 virus can penetrate the so-called beta cells in the pancreas and damage them.
These cells are responsible for producing the insulin required for healthy metabolism. A COVID-19 infection can apparently disrupt this function, which as a result leads to diabetes.
The research was conducted by a team at Kiel University and elsewhere.
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes the coronavirus disease COVID-19, can penetrate many different body cells.
Thus, not only can the function of the respiratory tract and the lungs be severely disrupted, but also numerous other organs.
The publication is an initial description of insulin deficiency diabetes after a COVID-19 illness, based on an observed case.
A 19-year-old patient came to the clinic with newly-developed severe diabetes with insulin deficiency. It could be shown that he apparently had experienced a COVID-19 infection a few weeks before.
Such an insulin deficiency diabetes, i.e. type 1 diabetes, is usually triggered by an autoimmune response, in which the immune system incorrectly identifies the beta cells in the pancreas as foreign and attacks them.
But this autoimmune response was not present in this patient. The team assumed that here, the COVID-19 virus itself attacked the beta cells.
This also fits with the fact that the beta cells possess a crucial receptor: the ACE2 receptor.
The COVID-19 virus can specifically bind with this receptor. The receptor is also used by the virus as an entry point into the other body cells which it attacks.
The finding underlines the importance of accurate follow-up observation after COVID-19.
The researchers are certain that as a result of this disease, even more, health-relevant metabolic problems can arise.
One author of the study is Professor Matthias Laudes.
The study is published in Nature Metabolism.
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