Long term effects of COVID

Researchers at La Trobe University supported by scientists from ANSTO have uncovered how the COVID-19 virus attacks human lung tissue potentially creating disastrous long-term health effects.

Researchers utilized the Macromolecular Crystallography (MX) Beamlines at the ANSTO Synchrotron to examine at an atomic scale, a complex of two proteins: one from COVID-19 and the second from human lungs.

The world-first discovery of this common relationship helps to understand how the deadly virus attacks lung tissue in healthy people and those with pre-existing conditions.

Publishing their results in Communications Biology last week, the Australian-led world-first research will now assist dedicated and hard-working medical professionals around the globe.

ANSTO MX Beamline’s Principal Scientist Dr Rachel Williamson believes the discovery is a critical step in medical research.

“Some young healthy people continue to have a dangerous misconception that COVID-19 is not too serious for them, and that if they contract the virus, they will recover quickly,” Dr Williamson said.

“This isn’t the flu, it is a new virus and, we have very little information about the long-term, potentially extremely serious, health impacts on the body in five, ten, or even twenty years from now.”

La Trobe University Professor Marc Kvansakul said the past twelve months has shown that COVID-19 can produce greatly varying illnesses.

“We’ve seen many patients around the world recover from the acute phase of the disease, only to discover that they have long-term damage to lungs and other organs,” Prof Kvansakul said.

In summary, the researchers have shown that SARS-CoV-1_E and SARS-CoV-2_E PBM bind to PALS1 PDZ with comparable affinities, and established the structural basis for CoV_E PBM binding to PALS1 PDZ.

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These findings provide a mechanistic basis for coronavirus induced perturbation of polarity signalling and may serve as a platform for the design of small-molecule inhibitors to target the envelope protein interaction with PALS1 for antiviral therapy.

“Pinpointing exactly how this damage occurs brings us an important step closer to developing treatments that can be administered while patients are still in intensive care.”

La Trobe University Professor Patrick Humbert said developing the COVID-19 vaccines was rightly the first priority, however now it is imperative that science shifts focus to also find treatments to combat COVID-19’s long-term effects.

“We’ve already seen how this virus can mutate into new strains, meaning our current vaccines won’t always be effective,” Prof Humbert said.

The $300 million ANSTO Synchrotron is one of a handful of such devices in the world. By having this critical facility here in Australia, we are creating the opportunity for Australians to lead the world in science and innovation.

An animation of the interaction between the SARS-CoV-2 E (envelope protein) and Pals1, a key protein found in human tissue can be found here.

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