Sooraj Shah ’24
COVID-19, ravaging the world since November of 2019, is not slowing down anytime soon. With mutated variants of the disease now circulating, cases are rising at an alarming rate once again, and the world is desperate for answers. While the vaccine currently protects against the original strain of the virus, it may not be as protective against mutated strains that consist of novel DNA. A study led by Dr. Maurizio Del Poeta, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook, is concentrating on a specific enzyme which has been found to cause severe inflammation in response to the virus. The team is focused on finding a path to suppress enzyme expression in order to lower severity of coronavirus.
127 patient blood samples from COVID-19 cohorts at Stony Brook’s Medical Center were collected between May and July of 2020. The age of the patients who died were found to be higher than those who lived. Of these, most had noticeably greater symptoms of covid such as low oxygen saturation and cardiac arrest.
The subsequent blood sample analysis revealed that the enzyme sPLA₂-IIA plays a significant role in the inflammatory response to COVID-19. This phospholipase has previously been linked to other diseases, warranting further investigation into its role in COVID-19. sPLA₂-IIA levels were measured to be 89.3 ng/mL in deceased COVID-19 patients, 17.9 ng/mL in severe patients, 9.3 ng/mL in mild patients, and 8.9 ng/mL in non-COVID-19 patients. This discrepancy, most notably between deceased and severe patients, illustrates the fatal effect of increased enzymatic activity of sPLA₂-IIA. More specifically, elevated levels of activity lead to splicing of organ membranes, contributing to cell death and organ failure. The study showed over a 60% death rate in patients with the virus and enzyme activity levels of over 10 ng/mL, providing a direct link between fatality from the virus and enzymatic activity.
The study has opened new avenues to fight the virus, including targeting this enzyme in order to suppress its activity and lower death rates in patients with severe symptoms. Future research is sure to be directed at formulating a possible inhibitor of the enzyme, reducing the effect of COVID-19 on the inflammatory response.
 J. Snider, et al., Group IIA secreted phospholipase A2 is associated with the pathobiology leading to COVID-19 mortality. J Clin Invest. (2021). doi: 10.1172/JCI149236.