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Obese may be at risk of coronavirus because fat cells are virus target

"Betsey Comer" (2020-08-11)


The reason why obese people may be more at risk of dying from coronavirus could be because their fat cells make large amounts of a protein used by the infection to infiltrate human cells.

is?51aFEzIPkYz4zMEYXJU6ua8AsRaPQhy6fKvTAThe coronavirus - scientifically called SARS-CoV-2 - latches onto ACE-2 receptors, known as the 'gateway' into cells inside body.

Fat cells express ACE-2 receptors, which experts say may explain why obese people have higher odds of suffering a severe bout of COVID-19. 

ACE-2 is also expressed in the fat cells of people with type 2 diabetes - another high-risk health condition driven by obesity.

Some researchers now believe diabetes drugs could be used to fight the infection - and admitted that losing weight may also have a benefit.  

The scientists who posed the theory, from Germany and the US, also outlined how fat cells are linked to a lung-scarring condition called pulmonary fibrosis. 

With COVID-19 added on top, the lungs would struggle to get enough oxygen to the rest of the body.

The evidence is not concrete but data from hospitalised COVID-19 patients suggests obese people are more likely to die than those who are slim.


Public Health England has launched an investigation into how obesity plays a role in disease severity, as well as ethnicity and gender. 






The coronavirus - scientifically called SARS-CoV-2 - latches onto ACE-2 receptors, known as the 'gateway' into cells inside body. Fat cells 'widely express' ACE-2 receptors, which may explain the link between obesity and severe COVID-19







 The evidence is not concrete but data from hospitalised COVID-19 patients suggests obese people are more likely to die than those who are slim







Dr Ilja Kruglikov of Wellcomet GmbH in Germany, wrote ACE-2 is 'widely expressed' in fat cells called adipocytes (pictured) in obese people and type 2 diabetics







 Researchers at New York University recently highlighted obesity as a main driver of patients under the age of 60 needing hospital care. The team found those with a BMI between 30 and 34 were almost twice as likely to be admitted to acute or critical (ICU) care than those with a BMI under 30. This likelihood increased to 3.6 times in those patients with a BMI of 35 or more


Around three in ten adults in England are clinically obese - a Body Mass Index above 30. The rate is among the highest in the Western world.

According to data from NHS hospitals, 75 per cent of COVID-19 patients in intensive care are overweight, compared with 65 per cent in the general population.  

In a 'perspective' paper published in the journal Obesity, the researchers explained the link between obesity and COVID-19 that has emerged. 






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Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) is the entry point for the virus. Its spiky surface binds to the receptors and, from there, replicates.

Dr Ilja Kruglikov of Wellcomet GmbH in Germany, wrote ACE-2 is 'widely expressed' in fat cells called adipocytes in obese people and type 2 diabetics

Fat might therefore 'serve as a viral reservoir', Polyurethane Injection Grouting warned Dr Kruglikov and his colleague Philipp Scherer of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.  

The scientists also explained that fat cells may drive the production of a type of cell called myofibroblasts. 

Myofibroblasts are a major driver of pulmonary fibrosis - scarring of the lung tissue which reduces the organs function and oxygen intake.

Infected patients have been found to have pulmonary fibrosis in their lungs, but it was likely already present before they became ill.  






According to a report on intensive care patients in the UK, people of a healthy weight make up a minority of critically ill COVID-19 patients. Almost three quarters are carrying extra weight (BMI of 25 to 40+)







ACE-2 receptors are the entry point for the coronavirus into cells, scientists say