According To Researchers Covid Activates Similar Inflammatory Response In Brain As Parkinson’s - Men's Health Magazine Australia

According To Researchers Covid Activates Similar Inflammatory Response In Brain As Parkinson’s

Researchers are calling it a ‘silent killer’ as they identify a response activated by Covid within the brain that is similar to that of Parkinson’s.

As health officials now warn of another surge in Covid cases, it seems that despite our best efforts, we’ll never be rid of Covid-19. Rather, we’ll simply learn to live with it. While the prevalence of vaccines across Australia has helped to reduce the impact of the pandemic and lessen the burden on the healthcare system, Australian researchers have since discovered an effect of Covid on the human brain that bears similarities to certain characteristics of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. 

Data from the University of Queensland has revealed a correlation between Covid-19 and a unique brain response. Researchers of the University’s School of Biomedical Sciences found that Covid-19 infection had the ability to activate the same inflammatory response in the brain seen in people with Parkinson’s disease, ultimately meaning that for those who contract Covid-19, the risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions is higher. 

The study, led by Professor Trent Woodruff and Dr Eduardo Albornoz Balmaceda, saw researchers analyse the effect of Covid-19 in the brain for some time, looking to gain insight into whether there was any risk to normal, healthy brain cells. As Professor Woodruff explains, “We studied the effect of the virus on the brain’s immune cells, ‘microglia’, which are the key cells involved in the progression of brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”

He added, “Our team grew human microglia in the laboratory and infected the cells with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. We found the cells effectively became ‘angry’, activating the same pathway that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s proteins can activate.”

According to Dr Balmaceda, when this pathway is activated, a “fire” response is emulated in the brain where neurone are slowly but progressively killed off. Not surprisingly, researchers are calling it the “silent killer,” as those experiencing it won’t see any outward symptoms for a number of years. 

Researchers are quick to note that while Covid-19 doesn’t have a direct link to Parkinson’s disease, findings from the study suggest that those infected will be more vulnerable to the onset of neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease later in life. And, for those who may already be predisposed to neurological disease, a single Covid infection could have a significant impact. 

There is good news though: thanks to their research into brain health and the effects of Covid, a potential treatment for neurological inflammation could already be identified. Currently undergoing clinical trials at the University of Queensland, inhibitory drugs have been shown to effectively put out the fire in the brain, “successfully block[ing] the inflammatory pathway activated by Covid,” according to Dr Balmaceda. 

“The drug reduced inflammation in both Covid-infected mice and the microglia cells from humans, suggesting a possible treatment approach to prevent neurodegeneration in the future,” Dr Balmaceda told Body and Soul. 

As Professor Woodruff adds, “Further research is needed, but this is potentially a new approach to treating a virus that could otherwise have untold long-term health ramifications.”

By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

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