Professor Roland Eils, together with his colleagues in the Thorax Clinic, Heidelberg, took these samples from the Heidelberg Lung Biobank initially to study why lung cancer occurs in people who have never smoked. Eils and his team at the BIH and Charité are utilizing single-cell sequencing technology to study the cells in the Heidelberg samples to find information that could help understand the pandemic. The team examined 60,000 cells to identify if they activated the gene for the receptor, in addition to the possible cofactors, which enabled them to be infected, explains one of the lead authors of the research, Soeren Lukassen. The team managed to find just the receptor transcripts for ACE2 and cofactor TMPRSS2 in certain cells. Lukassen, together with his co-lead authors Marc A. Schneider, Nicolas C. Kahn, Timo Trefzer, and Robert Lorenz Chua, discovered that some progenitor cells in the bronchi are mainly responsible for the creation of the coronavirus receptors.
These progenitors typically develop into respiratory tract cells which are lined with cilia. Elis explains that the results show that the virus behaves in an extremely selective fashion and depends upon certain human cells to spread and reproduce. Professor Michael Kreuter, Thorax Clinic, Heidelberg University Hospital, believes that the team’s findings can help devise more targeted treatments.
Scientists belonging to the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH): Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Thorax Clinic, Heidelberg University Hospital, functioning in the Center for Lung Research (DZL), have been analyzing samples taken from patients who aren’t infected by the virus to determine the cells from lungs and bronchi that are affected by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) disease. They have identified specific progenitor cells which express the receptor for the virus. These cells typically develop into cancerous tract cells that are lined with cilia, hair-like projections that sweep mucus and bacteria out of the lungs.