Sherman says the virus or viral proteins may not cause direct infection but could, through viral proteins circulating in the blood, cause cell damage or death to the liver cells. There is also a possibility that damage to the liver in patients with COVID-19 may be a result of the antiviral medications used to treat the disease.
Sherman says the pilot study has two goals.
“One focuses on examining the effect of viral infection on liver cells as compared to kidney cells in culture that the virus is known to replicate in,” says Sherman. “We will try to discern what is happening to understand which mechanisms are most operative in the process of damaging liver cells.”
The study may obtain virus samples from both national and international sources. The sample will be standardized and will be representative of SARS-CoV-2 virus strains from Washington state or Wuhan, China, explains Sherman. Federally approved repository storehouses have large batches of pedigreed viruses available for research.
“There has been enough mild variation that we want our findings to be comparable to research from other groups,” says Sherman.
A second goal of the study is to look at immunologic and clinical outcomes in patients with immunosuppression associated either with liver transplantation, kidney transplantation or individuals living with HIV, says Sherman.
“The broad question is: Are there differences in the immunologic responses or host responses in those patients that are immunosuppressed?” says Sherman. “How can we characterize those responses? The first step requires that we begin to develop the capabilities to do antibody testing.”
“We need antibody tests to know who has been exposed and we need to know how to identify COVID exposure when the virus is no longer there,” says Sherman. “Those are immunologic tests, and we are leveraging relationships with test manufacturers in the U.S. and China. We will study characteristics of individuals focusing on comparing immunosuppressed populations with other people who have intact immune systems.”