Scientists from the University of Washington found that COVID-19 can directly invade human kidney cells—specifically the proximal tubules, which are major gatekeepers in the organs’ waste-filtering function.
The research is published in JCI Insight and was conducted by Benjamin “Beno” Freedman et al.
Up to 25 percent of patients’ COVID-19 cases involve acute kidney injury—the kidneys’ equivalent of a heart attack.
Clinicians have suspected that such injuries are a side effect of the immune system’s sudden release of inflammatory proteins, cytokines, to battle the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The “cytokine storms” are known to damage tissues and organs.
In the study, the team used SARS-CoV-2 variants that had been lab-modified with a novel fluorescent gene, enabling them to easily identify which kidney structures became infected.
The researchers say that this finding means clinicians should consider COVID-19-implicated kidney infections in the same way we think about lung and heart infections—which is to monitor these organs for poorer function going forward.
There is a risk of a “long-hauler” effect that could progress to chronic kidney disease, so these patients should consider getting lab tests three to 12 months after they’ve recovered to confirm their kidneys are functioning and stable.
Unfortunately, clinicians have no diagnosis to know whether certain COVID-19 patients are more vulnerable to kidney infection—though a pre-existing kidney condition would be a logical risk factor.
As well, no medications are known to heal a kidney injured by COVID-19.
Many patients in these circumstances wind up on dialysis for a short term to provide temporary kidney function until the organs start to recover from the immediate infection.
The team says organoid cultures are also a resource to help identify therapeutics that help infected kidneys recover. The team has started testing different treatments.
If you care about COVID, please read studies about the link between blood group and severe COVID-19, and many people with COVID-19 get deadly ‘black fungus’ disease.
For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about new treatment option for COVID-19, and results showing COVID-19 mixed with flu can raise risks of death and severe illness.
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