First modification: 07/17/2021 – 16:31
A new study from the Max Planck Center for Physics and Medicine in Germany shows that Covid-19 can affect the deformation capacity of red blood cells. By not being able to deform, these cells do not work properly and do not carry nutrients and oxygen to all the organs of the body in the proper way. Experts say this could explain why some patients continue with coronavirus symptoms despite having overcome the disease.
The increasingly common term ‘Long Covid’ refers to symptoms that those recovered maintain despite having defeated the virus. Among the most common are headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and coughing. A study carried out in Germany shows that the virus could change characteristics of the white and red blood cells of the blood once the person has overcome the outbreak.
The analysis, carried out by scientists at the Max Planck Center for Physics and Medicine, shows that this could be due to the fact that the blood cells suffer damage and no longer have the same deformation capacity.
Martin Kraeter, scientist at the Max Planck Center explains that “what we noticed, mainly and immediately after the first measurement, was that, especially in patients with acute disease, the red blood cells were no longer deformed in the characteristic way”.
“Normally, red blood cells stretch for a long time. They are mechanically very smooth and therefore fit very well through fine blood capillaries. And in the case of Covid-19 patients, we have found that a large proportion of these cells no longer have this deformation property, “added Kraeter.
Those responsible for the study state that the symptoms may be due to the fact that, by not being able to deform, the blood cells cannot do their job correctly, so the nutrients and oxygen do not reach all the body’s organs adequately.
To analyze the blood cells, the experts used their own method called Real Time Deformability Cytometry, with which the blood cells are sent at high speed through a narrow channel that stretches the leukocytes or white blood cells and the erythrocytes or red blood cells. A high-speed camera records the cells and then a program determines the types of cells present, their size, and whether they deform as they pass.
“With this new method we can, for the first time, register up to 1,000 cells per second and measure their mechanical properties. Compared to previous technologies, which measured at a speed of approximately 100 cells per hour, we are 36,000 times faster, ”said Kraeter.
The scientists examined more than four million blood cells from 17 seriously ill patients, 14 people who had recovered, and 24 healthy people as a comparison group. Thus, they discovered that the red blood cells of patients with the disease differed considerably from those of healthy people, indicating damage to these cells and could also explain symptoms such as vascular occlusion and pulmonary embolisms.
At the Max Plank Center, researchers highlight the importance of these types of discoveries, as they can help determine the next step in treating Covid-19. According to them, it would be convenient for pharmaceutical companies to study this phenomenon and look for ways to develop drugs to restore the ability to deform blood cells, which would ensure that they perform an efficient job by being able to transport themselves through the body.