Irish scientists make discovery on dangerous Covid clotting

Work could help in developing treatments to prevent life-threatening complication

‘Our research helps provide insights into the mechanisms that cause severe blood clots in patients with Covid-19.’ Illustration: iStock

‘Our research helps provide insights into the mechanisms that cause severe blood clots in patients with Covid-19.’ Illustration: iStock

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Irish scientists have identified how some Covid-19 patients can develop life-threatening clots, which could lead to targeted therapies to prevent it from happening.

The balance between a molecule that causes clotting and its “regulator” is severely disrupted in patients with severe disease, they found.

The work, led by researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, is published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis.

Previous research has established that blood clotting is a significant cause of death in patients with Covid-19.

To understand why that clotting happens, the researchers analysed blood samples that were taken from patients with Covid-19 in Beaumont Hospital’s intensive care unit in Dublin.

They found that the balance between a molecule that causes clotting, called Von Willebrand Factor (VWF), and its regulator, called Adamts13, is severely disrupted in patients with severe Covid-19.

VWF is a large, sticky adhesive-like protein that helps to bind platelets within the blood and prevents people from bleeding excessively.

Protein changes

Compared with control groups, the blood of Covid-19 patients had higher levels of VWF molecules and lower levels of the anti-clotting Adamts13. The researchers identified other changes in proteins that caused the reduction of the regulator.

“Our research helps provide insights into the mechanisms that cause severe blood clots in patients with Covid-19, which is critical to developing more effective treatments,” said study author Dr Jamie O’Sullivan, a research lecturer within the Irish Centre for Vascular Biology at RCSI.

“While more research is needed to determine whether targets aimed at correcting the levels of Adamts13 and VWF may be a successful therapeutic intervention, it is important that we continue to develop therapies for patients with Covid-19,” said Dr O’Sullivan.

“Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be unavailable to many people throughout the world, and it is important that we provide effective treatments to them and to those with breakthrough infections.” 

This work was funded by Irish Covid-19 Vasculopathy Study through the Health Research Board Covid-19 Rapid Response award as well as a philanthropic grant from the 3M Foundation to RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. The research was also led by Prof James O’Donnell of the RCSI and their clinical colleagues in Beaumont Hospital.