Oklahoma State University research team to join international coalition & study how coronavirus impacts the body

Coronavirus
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STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) – A team of Oklahoma State University researchers is joining an international coalition that will work to understand how novel coronavirus impacts the body.

OSU assistant professor Dr. Ashlee Ford Versypt will lead the team of OSU researchers.

The OSU team will be part of a tissue damage sub-team of the SARS-CoV-2 Tissue Simulation Coalition, which includes theoretical and experimental collaborators from other universities, as well as industry professionals, according to an OSU news release.

Dr. Paul Macklin, an associate professor at Indiana University, leads the tissue damage sub-team, according to an OSU news release.

Macklin, who developed a 3D computer modeling system called PhysiCell that has been used to study cancer, reached out to Ford Versypt.

“One Sunday I got a Twitter message from Paul saying that he created a prototype SARS-CoV-2 computer model using the Physicell platform, and he wanted to put together a framework to connect individuals with expertise in certain areas to review and enhance the prototype,” Ford Versypt said. “Within that first weekend, people started to coalesce and provide feedback. These were people who had understandings of the first human coronavirus (SARS), influenza and other types of respiratory diseases, so he started to form a team.”

Ford Versypt’s lab studies a receptor called angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Individuals have a wealth of ACE2 receptors in their lungs and airways. Studies indicate that when a person inhales the novel coronavirus, the virus moves into the person’s cells through ACE2 receptors. If coronavirus isn’t beaten by the initial stages of the immune system, then it will move into other parts of the body, according to the news release.

“One thing my lab studies is ACE2 biochemical processes related to complications in individuals who have diabetes or high blood pressure that can lead to damage in the kidneys,” Ford Versypt explained.

Ford Versypt’s team is also building computational models to illuminate how to maintain a health balance of ACE2 in light of diabetics being at higher risk of developing severe symptoms and dying from novel coronavirus.

“A healthy balance of ACE2 is needed to control blood pressure, but you also must consider a diabetic’s chronic conditions, their required medications and minimizing the extent of the viral infection in the body,” Ford Versypt said.

Ford Versypt’s lab is also studying lung and kidney damage caused by coronavirus.

“There is mounting evidence that suggests the immune systems in patients may respond too aggressively to the virus, creating a condition called cytokine storm,” Ford Versypt said.

Cytokine storm can result in inflammation throughout the body and reduce blood flow to the kidneys, potentially causing fatal damage.

“Cytokine storm effectively kills off the virus,” Ford Versypt continued. “But, at the expense of significant collateral damage to the healthy cells and tissues throughout the body.”

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