According to a new study, coronavirus might be affecting fat cells directly as well as some specific immune cells that can be found in fat tissue.
The study was previously posted in the preprint database bioRxiv and as part of it, scientists experimented with fat tissue that had been procured from bariatric surgeries in order to figure out whether or not it could be infected by the virus.
What they found was that fat cells, also known as adipocytes, could indeed get infected and develop a low inflammation level as a result.
Another conclusion was that immune cells that are usually found within fat tissue, known as macrophages, get infected as well and get a much more intense inflammation.
And that was not all! The team of researchers also examined fat tissue from people who lost their lives to COVID-19 only to find coronavirus remnants among the fat surrounding some of their organs.
Indeed, there are other viruses such as influenza and HIV that act similarly, burrowing themselves in fat tissue in order to hide from the immune system.
With that being said, experts told The Times that COVID-19 could, theoretically, do the same thing in order to escape people’s immune response and remain within the body.
At this point, however, the new study is yet to be peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal.
But if the findings are indeed approved, a scientist, not involved in the research, who studies fat cells at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas by the name of Philipp Scherer, told the Times that “the bottom line is, ‘Oh my god, indeed, the virus can infect fat cells directly.”
Live Science previously reported that people dealing with obesity have been struggling with the virus more, often needing hospitalization, since the begging of the pandemic so this conclusion might not be a big surprise but it hadn’t been clear as to why until now.
Other theories circulating out there in the past were that obese people’s blood clots easier, that fat in the abdomen pushes the diaphragm, restricting airflow to the already infected lungs or that fat cells that build up in the body infiltrate a number of organs, where many immune cells are usually produced, negatively affecting the protection they provide and weakening the immune system overall.
Of course, excess fat is also able to cause chronic, low-grade inflammation all throughout the body as per Science.
In reality, all of these factors are relevant and seem to make COVID-19 infections worse but now, this new study seems to finally prove that the virus is able to directly infect fat cells as well.
Dr. Catherine Blish, the senior author of the research and a translational immunologist and professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, shared with the news outlet that “This could well be contributing to severe disease. We are seeing the same inflammatory cytokines I see in the blood of the really sick patients being produced in response to infection of those [fat] tissues.”