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Study: Tissue in the human eye appears resistant to coronavirus

Published Nov 7, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - Researchers at Washington University discovered that the cornea - the transparent part of the eye that covers the pupil and iris - appeared to have resistance to SARS-CoV-2.

As the world awaits the final development of a Covid-19 vaccine. scientists continue to learn more in hopes to combat the outbreak of the virus and discover breakthrough treatments.

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Although scientists continue to learn more ways in which the coronavirus can be transmitted, a common method was the spread of particles on objects which are then touched by the hands and move to the face gaining entry to the body via the nose, mouth and eyes.

But new evidence from the study, published in Cell Reports, suggests that certain parts of the eye may be resistant to the coronavirus finding the virus unable to replicate within cornea tissue.

“Our findings do not prove that all corneas are resistant,” said first author Jonathan J. Miner, MD, PhD. “But every donor cornea we tested was resistant to the novel coronavirus. It’s still possible a subset of people may have corneas that support growth of the virus, but none of the corneas we studied supported growth of SARS-CoV-2.”

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Previous research in human corneal tissue discovered that Zika virus, an infectious disease spread by mosquitos, could shed in tears, so the team from Washington University wanted to learn whether the cornea may be another entry point for SARS-CoV-2.

The team of scientists exposed eye tissue to various viruses, finding an inhibitor called 'interferon lambda' found within the corneal tissue which prevented and restricted the Zika virus and herpes but more importantly, identified key substances in the corneal tissue which prevents SARS-CoV-2 from replicating and unable to spread.

“It’s important to respect what this virus is capable of and take appropriate precautions,” he said. “We may learn that eye coverings are not necessary to protect against infection in the general community, but our studies really are just the beginning. We need larger clinical studies to help us better understand all the potential routes of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, including the eye.”

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