Scientists are still trying to understand the different ways that the SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, virus affects the body both in the short and long term. As more studies are conducted, scientists are finding that the virus may be linked to the development of other health conditions, such as diabetes.
Recent studies involving non-human primates and humans (both living and deceased), have led researchers to discover the presence of SARS-CoV-2 within cells throughout the pancreas, including islet, ductal, and endothelial cells. COVID-19 enters cells through angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2), both of which showed increased expression in pancreatic tissue of non-human primates (NHPs) and humans.
This may impact the survival of these cells, as well as their ability to produce and release insulin. Insulin deficiency is a primary cause of diabetes and leaves the body unable to regulate blood glucose levels on its own.
Researchers found that “two out of eight NHPs developed new-onset diabetes following SARS-CoV-2 infection. Two out of five COVID-19 patients exhibited new-onset diabetes at [hospital] admission. These results suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infection of the pancreas may promote acute and especially chronic pancreatic dysfunction that could potentially lead to new-onset diabetes.”
More research and larger studies are necessary to determine the effect of the virus on pancreatic function and insulin production. However, multiple studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 infects multiple types of cells found within the pancreas, and this could increase the risk of new-onset or late-onset diabetes.
The Diabetes Research Connection continues to follow the latest developments in the field and is interested to see how COVID-19 may impact diabetes as well as potential prevention and treatment efforts. Though not involved with these studies, the DRC provides critical funding to support early-career scientists pursuing research around type 1 diabetes. Learn more about current projects and how to help by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.
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