Severe cases of COVID-19 are generally associated with older people and people with preexisting conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.  However, it was unclear why so many young and seemingly healthy people were also hospitalized with severe COVID-19 symptoms.  Innovative new ways of doing research have now shed some light on this phenomenon.

Researchers at the Blue Brain Project in Switzerland, with access to some 240 000 COVID-19 related open access scientific papers, have developed machine learning models combined with knowledge engineering to search for links between seemingly healthy people and severe cases of COVID-19.   A recurring trend was detected among those with severe COVID-19, namely elevated blood glucose levels.

The findings indicated various ways in which elevated blood glucose levels may impact on the body’s defense against COVID-19, such as

  • Impairing the initial responses of the immune defense system in the lungs, which serves as a key barrier to contain the virus and prevent further infections.
  • Causing dysregulation in the immune response, which facilitates the typical cytokine storm (where the blood is teeming with high levels of immune system proteins called cytokines and where the body starts to attack its own cells and tissues instead of just fighting off the virus) and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
  • Contributing to an escalation of the disease due to thrombotic events and multi-organ failure. 
  • In addition, elevated blood glucose levels were linked to COVID-19 complications such as hyperinflammation and promoting of blood coagulation.
  • Elevated blood glucose levels may provide the ideal conditions to coat the COVID-19 spike protein and bypass the immune system.

The research findings conclude that clinical studies are required to determine whether elevated blood glucose is in fact the primary underlying driver of the severity of the COVID-19 disease.

(Machine learning is a branch of computer science which uses data and algorithms to imitate the way humans learn, to uncover key insights in data mining projects.  Knowledge engineering is a field of artificial intelligence which creates rules to be applied to date to imitate the thought processes and judgement of a human expert in a specific field.)

Reference:

Machine learning and knowledge engineering uncovers significant role of elevated blood glucose in severe COVID-19.  Published 22 July 2021.  Frontiers Science News.  (www.frontiersin.org)

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