Research reveals how a potentially fatal COVID-19 complication damages lung tissue

Mechanisms involved in the rapid, severe progression of fibrosis in the lung tissues of COVID-19 patients, a potentially fatal complication of the virus that damages and scars the lungs, have been uncovered by researchers led by UTHealth Houston.

Until now, little was known about the cellular mechanisms that lead to fulminant lung fibrosis (FLF) in non-resolvable COVID-19. FLF is characterized by the sudden onset and rapid progression of damage to lung tissue, often requiring lung transplantation.

“We believe this is the initial step to understanding post-ARDS fibrosis from COVID-19 and potentially offers us insight into potential therapies for this disease,” said Soma S.K. Jyothula, MD, senior author on the study, and associate professor in the Center for Advanced Cardiopulmonary Therapies and Transplantation at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Of those patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, severe lung disease and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) has been a primary cause of death since the pandemic began in 2020, Jyothula said.

Evidence of FLF can be seen on average about 15 weeks after symptom onset, according to the study published online by eBio Medicine, part of The Lancet journal family.

Symptoms of FLF of post-COVID-19 ARDS include severely low levels of oxygen in the tissues requiring high amounts of oxygen supplementation, the need for mechanical ventilation, and occasionally support from a machine that oxygenates the patient’s blood outside of the body, then returns it to their system.

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