The cure for COVID-19 could come from bats

Melbourne, Australia – Bats may hold the key to beating COVID-19, new study finds. Flying mammals have exceptional immunity, which protects them against deadly viruses. Australian scientists say unraveling their secret to superior health would open the door to finding a cure for the virus.

Researchers note that bats catch COVID without getting sick. Left intact in their natural habitats, they present little risk to humans.

“Preventing progression to serious disease or treating it effectively – in other words, mimicking bats – would significantly relieve suffering and save lives,” says lead author of the study, Professor Marcel Nold of Monash University in a press release.

The study in the journal Scientific immunology identified an “urgent need for effective therapies, at least in part because of the emergence of mutations”. COVID variants such as Alpha, Beta, and Delta are progressively more infectious than the original strain. The Delta strain is up to 79% more transmissible than Alpha and possibly more deadly.

“Preventing infection, or enabling patients to eradicate COVID, is the ultimate goal. But it is not known when either will become reliably possible. Therefore, efforts to identify safe and effective therapies to prevent COVID from progressing to moderate and severe stages of the disease are essential in the fight against the disease, ”explains Professor Nold.

The international team’s review found that the bat analysis is very promising and “will also prepare us better for the next epidemic or pandemic”. They found that a common ancestor of the virus likely appeared in bats four to seven decades ago.

“The exact bat species or intermediate host involved in the 2019 outbreak remains elusive,” Professor Nold said.

Using bats to boost the human immune system

Although bats infect each other with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, they show no symptoms in their lungs or other organs – even though the same virus severely affects humans. Resistance could be used to refine the same immune responses in people. This includes strengthening the virus fighting proteins known as type I and III interferon responses.

Once severe disease has developed, inflammatory chemicals called inflammasomes could be blocked, mimicking what happens in bats. Professor Nold notes that this “could minimize the excessive inflammation, immune depletion and cytokine storms found in humans.” The immune system’s army of messengers, small proteins that travel between cells, get carried away, causing organ failure and even death.

Don’t blame bats for the pandemic

Some believe that COVID actually originated in bats, passing to humans through another animal, as yet unidentified. It is also believed that a number of other diseases, including SARS, MERS and Ebola, have also spread to humans in this way.

However, environmentalists and conservationists have warned that bats should not be persecuted for this possible link. They are essential for the balance of nature. Many are pollinators, scattering the seeds of fruit, and others are insectivores, eating millions of tons of insects per night.

Knowledge of bat genomes will help explain how animals tolerate coronavirus infections that could help fight pandemics in the future. In many viral infections, it is not the virus itself that causes death, but the acute inflammatory response elicited by the body’s immune system. Bats can control that. So even though they can be infected, they do not show visible signs of illness.

Vaccines alone will not beat COVID. Delta is booming among vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. It increases the risk of new mutations and subjects many people to Long-COVID. The solution includes better protection, testing and treatment.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.