Bats May Offer Clues to Treating COVID-19

Johnny Lopez
July 15, 2020 - 8:45 am
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    Bats might be the secret to uncovering new coronavirus treatments.

    In a new review article published in Cell Metabolism, researchers believe the longevity of bats and their ability to control inflammation and tolerate viruses may hold a key to developing new innovations in fighting off disease in humans, reported the New York Post.

    Since bats are often believed to be the root of many deadly viruses, University of Rochester biology professors Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov looked at a correlation between their relatively long lifespans, they typically survive upwards of 30 or 40 years, and how they control inflammation, which is “a hallmark of the aging process and age-related diseases.”

    “With COVID-19, the inflammation goes haywire, and it may be the inflammatory response that is killing the patient, more so than the virus itself,” Gorbunova said.

    “The human immune system works like that: Once we get infected, our body sounds an alarm and we develop a fever and inflammation. The goal is to kill the virus and fight infection, but it can also be a detrimental response as our bodies overreact to the threat.”

    According to the researchers, bats have developed mechanisms which allow them to “reduce viral replication” without overtaxing their immune response.

    There are several factors that may be contributing to a bat’s ability to fight off these viruses. The power of flight is key as they are the only mammals that are able to soar to new heights. Flying means their bodies have to adapt to fast changes in body temperature, metabolism and molecular damage.

    Another factor is that because they tend to live in dense populations they are often exposed to various viruses and pathogens. According to the researchers, this indicates their immune systems are always in an “arms race with pathogens.”

    “Dealing with all of these viruses may be shaping bats’ immunity and longevity,” Gorbunova said.

    Gorbunova and Seluanov are looking to start a new research program to further analyze the immune systems of bats in hopes of coming up with more concrete findings to aid humans.

    “Humans have two possible strategies if we want to prevent inflammation, live longer, and avoid the deadly effects of diseases like COVID-19,” Gorbunova shared. “One would be to not be exposed to any viruses, but that’s not practical. The second would be to regulate our immune system more like a bat.”

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