New Delhi: A team of researchers at the Hadassah University Medical Centre in Jerusalem have found the source of blood clots in coronavirus patients that causes rashes, swollen legs and sometimes sudden death. The researchers have also revealed a treatment for the clots.
According to several global studies, at least 30 per cent of patients who test positive for coronavirus develop clots that block the flow of blood to their kidneys, heart, lungs and brain. The researchers at Hadassah University Medical Centre found that these clots formed when patients had an increased level of alpha defensin protein in their bloodstream.
Dr Abd Alrauf Higavi, head of the Division of Laboratories and Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Hadassah University Medical Centre, said, “Patients with mild symptoms have a low concentration of alpha defensin.” He added that “patients with strong disease symptoms have high levels. The people who die have very high levels.”
Dr Higavi had published a paper in the American Society of Hematology journal Blood, about alpha defensin, which is a peptide or a short chain of amino acids. They found that alpha defensin increases the speed of creation of blood clots and prevents their disintegration.
The findings from this study have given the scientists important insights into the blood clots that have been seen in Covid-19 patients because existing anticoagulant drugs haven’t had any impact on alpha defensin.
The researchers studied more than 700 blood samples of patients admitted at the medical centre during the first Covid wave in Israel. “We took blood samples from 80 patients in Hadassah’s Outbreak Department (in Jerusalem) and found a high concentration of alpha defensin … The sicker the person, the higher the concentration of this peptide,” Dr Higavi said.
The results indicated that alpha defensin speeds up blood clot formation which can cause pulmonary embolism (the blockage of arteries in the lungs by a substance that has moved through the bloodstream), heart attacks or a stroke. Moreover, when a clot is formed in the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs in lungs that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules in the bloodstream, it can lead to distress in breathing and eventual intubation.
Studies also revealed that more than 80 per cent of coronavirus patients who were intubated had died.
Countering alpha defensin
The researchers found that administering a drug called colchicine to mice inhibited the release of alpha defensin. Colchicine is used in the prevention and treatment of gout attacks, which are caused by an excess of uric acid in blood.
While the tests conducted on mice proved the be successful, Dr Higavi and his team are waiting for approvals for human trials. The clinical trials will investigate the use of colchicine in severe and mild or moderate cases of Covid-19. This will help establish whether the drug is effective in decreasing the chances of a mild Covid case becoming severe.
“The drugs available today in the blood-thinning market do not fully address this clotting, since its mechanism differs from the mechanisms for which these drugs currently exist,” Dr Higavi explained.
“Resources should be diverted to finding a suitable drug for coronavirus patients,” he said. He also said that using colchicine could reduce the number of patients needing respirators.
“These patients have numerous blood clots in their lungs, preventing normal blood flow,” he said, adding, “We can also give it to those with mild symptoms to prevent the development of blood clots.”