Earlier this summer, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee set about crunching data on more than 40,000 genes from 17,000 genetic samples in an effort to better understand Covid-19. Summit is the second-fastest computer in the world, but the process — which involved analyzing 2.5 billion genetic combinations — still took more than a week.
When Summit was done, researchers analyzed the results. It was, in the words of Dr. Daniel Jacobson, lead researcher and chief scientist for computational systems biology at Oak Ridge, a “eureka moment.” The computer had revealed a new theory about how Covid-19 impacts the body: the bradykinin hypothesis. The hypothesis provides a model that explains many aspects of Covid-19, including some of its most bizarre symptoms. It also suggests 10-plus potential treatments, many of which are already FDA approved. Jacobson’s group published their results in a paper in the journal eLife in early July.
According to the team’s findings, a Covid-19 infection generally begins when the virus enters the body through ACE2 receptors in the nose, (The receptors, which the virus is known to target, are abundant there.) The virus then proceeds through the body, entering cells in other places where ACE2 is also present: the intestines, kidneys, and heart. This likely accounts for at least some of the disease’s cardiac and GI symptoms.
But once Covid-19 has established itself in the body, things start to get really interesting. According to Jacobson’s group, the data Summit analyzed shows that Covid-19 isn’t content to simply infect cells that already express lots of ACE2 receptors. Instead, it actively hijacks the body’s own systems, tricking it into upregulating ACE2 receptors in places where they’re usually expressed at low or medium levels, including the lungs.
Thus starts a report of the findings of analysis when the super-computer at the Oak Ridge Tennessee was given the task of making some sense, to see some patterns in all the various samples collected on those with the corona virus. As many have noted for years the number crunching powers of the computer took a nearly impossible task and in this case in a relatively short space of time was able to come up with some insights.
Pitting a wonder of mankind – the super-computer – against what seems to be the almost perfect disease agent feels like the making of a great science fiction story. Instead this is a real science story with perhaps millions of lives on the line and stopping decades of suffering in the balance.
The Covid-19 virus has only been around for a short time, but the damage it has done is frightening with a promise of much more to come. More than that, this virus seemed capable of causing damages in humans that didn’t make sense. From one patient to another, the virus has produced very different symptoms or in many cases no visible symptoms at all.
The story of what the super-computer found is relatively short, but of major importance. Certainly we must understand our opponent in order to do battle with it. This analysis appears to give us a good starting point for treatment of those who have the virus and may help in the search for an effective vaccine.
While this is promising research, don’t let your guard down. Keep those masks on, keep those hands clean, don’t touch your nose or mouth and stay away from crowds, especially indoors. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the current president and the Iowa’s current Governor plus Iowa’s senator who is up reelection are dong nothing, nothing to stop the spread. So you must protect yourself.
Knowledge is power. Stay informed!