Could Bats Hold Clues to COVID Treatments?

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY July 16, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Bats have been accused of being a possible source of the new coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging the world. But they could also indicate possible solutions.

Scientists say the immune system of winged mammals may offer clues to how to fight the new coronavirus and other dangerous viruses in humans.

“Humans have two possible strategies if we are to prevent inflammation, live longer and avoid the deadly effects of diseases like COVID-19,” said Vera Gorbunova, lead author of the study, professor of biology at the University from Rochester to New York. “One would be not to be exposed to viruses, but that is not practical. The second would be to regulate our immune system more like a bat.”

Many deadly viruses that affect humans are thought to originate from bats, including rabies, Ebola, and SARS-CoV-2, the strain that causes COVID-19. But bats have developed a secret weapon: they are better able to tolerate viruses than humans and other mammals.

“We have been interested in longevity and resistance to bat disease for some time, but we have not had time to sit and think about it,” said Gorbunova in an academic press release. .

“Being in quarantine gave us time to discuss this, and we realized that there could be a very strong link between bats’ resistance to infectious diseases and their longevity. We also realized that bats can provide clues to human therapies used to fight disease, “she said. Explain.

Typically, the lifespan of a species is associated with its body size. The smaller a species, the shorter its lifespan. But many species of bats have a lifespan of 30 to 40 years, which is impressive by their size, noted the authors in a review article published recently in Cell metabolism.

The longevity and tolerance of bats to viruses may be due to their ability to control inflammation, which is implicated in both aging and disease. Viruses, including COVID-19, can trigger inflammation.

With COVID-19, this inflammatory response becomes “out of whack,” said Gorbunova. In fact, in many cases, it is the inflammatory response that kills the patient, more so than the virus itself.


“The human immune system works like this: once we are infected, our body sounds an alarm and we develop a fever and inflammation. The goal is to kill the virus and fight the infection, but it can also be a harmful response because our body overreacts to the threat, “said Gorbunova.

In contrast, the bats’ immune system controls viruses without causing a strong inflammatory response.

There are several possible reasons why bats have evolved to fight viruses and live long lives. The theft could be one of them, the researchers noted.

Bats are the only mammals that can fly, which forced them to adapt to rapid increases in body temperature, sudden increases in metabolism and molecular damage. These adaptations can also help with disease resistance, suggest the study authors.

Another factor is that many species of bats live in large, dense colonies and cling to each other on cave ceilings or in trees. These conditions are ideal for transmitting viruses and other pathogens.

According to Andrei Seluanov, professor of biology at the University of Rochester, “Bats are constantly exposed to viruses. They always fly and bring something new to the cave or nest, and they transfer the virus because they live in such proximity. to each other. “

This means that the bats’ immune system is constantly adapting to deal with new viruses. Studying the immune systems of bats could lead to new ways to fight aging and disease in humans, the researchers said.

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SOURCE: University of Rochester, press release, July 9, 2020

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