With new waves and strains of COVID-19 continuing to cause illness and claim lives around the world, the search for more clues on how to minimise the dangerous effects of the pandemic virus has not lost its urgency.
Mater Researcher, Associate Professor Katharina Ronacher is one of the scientists on the hunt for medical answers to treating patients with the virus, and a $70,000 injection of funding from Diabetes Australia will help her make some important headway.
Research has already established that obesity and diabetes increase severity of COVID-19, and with 67 per cent of the Australian adult population (12.6 million people) being overweight or obese, the risk of COVID complications is high. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics more than a third of COVID-19 deaths in Australia were associated with diabetes.
The Diabetes Australia grant will fund the project to investigate how to harness oxidised cholesterols to reduce susceptibility to COVID-19 in obese and diabetic patients.
A/Prof Ronacher said her study will test new treatment options to reduce lung damage during COVID-19.
“Our recent laboratory testing has demonstrated that respiratory tract infections trigger local production of oxidised cholesterols to facilitate immune cell infiltration into the lung. This process is exacerbated by high fat diets which promote hyper-inflammation and lung pathology,” A/Prof Ronacher said.
“My research on COVID-19 has shown that by blocking a specific oxysterol receptor we can reduce infiltration of the inflammation inducing immune cells called macrophages into the lung, preventing lung damage, reducing COVID severity and improving recovery.
“This project investigates if using this novel oxysterol receptor alongside existing cholesterol lowering drugs, would improve COVID-19 infection outcomes in a preclinical model of diabetes.
“The study will provide the first translatable evidence regarding the benefits of modulating oxysterol function in the lung to improve viral infection outcomes for obese or diabetic patients.”
The project is anticipated to run for one year, and A/Prof Ronacher hopes it will lead to clinical trials in COVID-19 patients with and without diabetes.