UCC scientists’ discovery could help treat those at high risk from Covid-19

8 Jun 2022

Liam O’Mahony and Paul O’Toole, principal investigators at APC Microbiome Ireland. Image: UCC

Microbiota, metabolism and immune system communication are key to overcoming Covid-19, according to a new study by Irish research group APC.

New research indicates that a patient’s response to the SARS-CoV-2 infection is impacted by the types of interactions occurring between their microbiota, metabolism and immune system.

The research was published by a research group from APC Microbiome Ireland, a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre based at University College Cork (UCC).

APC’s research was informed by an international study carried out on 172 hospitalised Covid-19 patients. The patients were from Cork, as well as three different locations in Switzerland.

APC scientists demonstrated that hyper-inflammatory responses and metabolic dysfunction were exaggerated in patients with a specific type of microbiota. These patients were less likely to survive infection with SARS-CoV-2.

The research findings mean that healthcare professionals can now identify high-risk patients earlier through microbiome profiling. Patients at greater risk due to their microbiota profile could be protected against the virus by taking appropriately selected probiotics and prebiotics to boost their immune systems.

The research paper has been published in the journal Gut Microbes. Its co-lead authors are APC principal investigators Liam O’Mahony and Paul O’Toole, both professors in UCC.

According to O’Mahony, “This study further demonstrates that the microbes within us are intimately connected with immune and metabolic health. We now need to investigate how to positively influence these connections before a person becomes infected to help reduce risk of severe outcomes to infection.”

O’Toole said the study added “another piece to the jigsaw puzzle that is Covid-19 research”.

He added that the results have provided the team of researchers “with a range of defined targets for interventions.”

APC’s research was supported by SFI’s Covid-19 Rapid Response Research and Innovation Funding.

In March of this year, APC Microbiome researchers investigating ‘long Covid’ found a link between the immune system and impaired metabolism.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.