As the coronavirus pandemic persists, scientists continue to learn more about SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as COVID-19. One area of interest is how the virus may affect beta cells within the body, and more specifically, pancreatic beta cells. Two recent studies have examined the connection between COVID-19 infections and diabetes.
The pancreas contains insulin-producing beta cells that help control blood glucose levels. In individuals with type 1 diabetes, these cells are mistakenly attacked and destroyed by the immune system. Research has shown that following a COVID-19 infection, a similar process may occur, reducing the quantity of pancreatic beta cells and the amount of insulin produced.
According to researchers, “Beta cells and other cell types in the pancreas express the ACE2 receptor protein, the TMPRSS2 enzyme protein, and neuropilin 1 (NRP1), all of which SARS-CoV-2 depends upon to enter and infect human cells.” Autopsy results from patients who died from COVID-19 showed the presence of the virus in pancreatic cells.
In addition to decreasing insulin production, the SARS-CoV-2 virus may also lead to beta-cell death or transdifferentiation of the cells. During transdifferentiation, cells are reprogrammed to alter their function. Researchers found that some cells produced less insulin, more glucagon, and more trypsin 1, a digestive enzyme. However, blocking NRP 1 may prevent cell death, and trans-ISRIB treatment may help reduce the stress response of cells. This may help reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
More research is necessary to gain a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on pancreatic beta cells and the damage that it may cause. One of the best defenses against COVID-19 to date is getting vaccinated.
The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested to see what future studies reveal and how this may impact treatment and prevention efforts. The DRC provides critical funding for early-career scientists studying all facets of type 1 diabetes. Learn more about how to support these efforts by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.
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