"Damage to lungs" may be an understatement for many COVID-19 patients as a new study revealed that there are patients who cannot survive if they do not get a lung transplant.
A study titled, "Lung transplantation for patients with severe COVID-19," published in the journal Science Translational Medicine revealed that the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 can destroy the most fundamental framework of the lungs, rendering the patient unable to recover. When this happens, the options of the patient become very limited, such that the only feasible solution is for lung transplantation.
Dr Ankit Bharat, the principal author of the study and the chief of thoracic surgery of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program in Chicago, said that they provide explicit evidence that the disease can lead to permanent damage in the lungs of some patients, and where getting a lung transplant becomes the "only hope for survival."
Bharat's team found that COVID-19 patients who had irreversible lung damage had KRT17 epithelial cells in the lung tissue. The researchers noted that the same cells could be found in the lungs of those who are suffering from a deadly lung disease called pulmonary fibrosis, already at the "end-stage."
At Northwestern Medicine, there were already eight COVID-19 patients who had a double-lung transplant, which is considered as the most number of transplantations performed at any health system in the world.
Bharat, in a news release, explained how COVID-19 really destroys the lungs. He said that the lungs have progenitor cells, which are responsible for healing the lungs. These cells move through the underlying framework of the lungs. However, when the framework gets destroyed by COVID-19, the progenitor cells will have nowhere to go. Then, the lungs develop large holes, and the holes become places of infection.
Another author of the study, Dr Scott Budinger, said that the lungs of COVID-19 patients showed similarity with those of patients suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis where the lungs become thick and stiff, which makes it difficult for the body to take in oxygen.
The only good side that researchers noted was that they found that it is safe to perform lung transplantation even on critically ill patients. This is regarded as something new in the field of transplantation.