Apart from breathlessness, cough, and loss of taste or smell, most people with COVID infection have reported gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

Gut infection, which expresses high levels of the ACE2 receptor protein that the virus uses to enter cells, is correlated with more severe cases of COVID-19. However, the exact interactions between the coronavirus and intestinal tissue are difficult to study in humans.

Now, a team of researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University used a human Intestine Chip to study coronavirus infection and potential treatments in an environment that mimics the human intestine more effectively than cells grown in a dish, according to Science Daily.

The team infected the Intestine Chip with a COVID-like virus and then tested the effects of various drugs that have been used to treat SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The investigators found that a drug called nafamostat reduced infection, but the most common drug remdesivir did not reduce infection and instead damaged the intestinal tissue.

Co-first author GirijaGoyal, Senior Research Scientist at the Wyss Institute said, “We were surprised that remdesivir displayed such clear toxicity to the vascular tissue in the Intestine Chip.”

“GI symptoms have been previously reported in clinical trials of remdesivir, and this model now gives us a window into the underlying causes of those symptoms,” she added. “It could also help us better understand the efficacy and toxicity of other similar drugs.”

Senior author Dr. Don Ingber said, “This study demonstrates that we can explore complex interactions between cells, pathogens, and drugs in the human intestine using our Intestine Chip as a preclinical model.”

“We hope it proves useful in the ongoing effort to better understand the effects of SARS-CoV-2 and to identify drugs that could be used to combat future viral pandemics,” he added.

The article was published in Science Daily.