UTSA researchers uncover evidence that COVID-19 virus could enter human brain

Studies are happening across the world to try and learn more about the virus that is killing millions of people

SAN ANTONIO – A University of Texas at San Antonio research team wanted to know if the virus that causes COVID-19 could enter the brain.

Jenny Hsieh, a professor in the Department of Biology at UTSA, led the research to test the team’s questions. She said researchers took human stem cells and created brain organoids, or tiny brains, in a lab.

“Organoids are really small, three-dimensional brain-like tissue grown in a petri dish, and they resemble the developing human brain,” Hsieh said.

Hsieh said UTSA researchers collaborated with scientists from the Texas Biomedical Institute, who are growing the live virus.

“We brought our organoids over to Texas Biomed, and we infected them with very, very small amounts of SARS-COV-2 (novel coronavirus),” Hsieh said. “We found that there was infection. The virus was entering the organoids.”

The organoids have different types of cells. Researchers discovered it was affecting the glial cells.

Hsieh said these cells act as a barrier to the brain to protect against viruses and other pathogens. She said the organoids they studied also resembled a baby’s brain during its second or third trimester of development.

“I am suggesting, based on our work, that we pay close attention to the babies that are being born for mothers who are infected with COVID-19, and we continue to watch for them. We continue to monitor the signs of their brain function,” Hsieh said.

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