A recent study at St. Petersburg University hypothesized that the severe course of COVID-19 may be associated with something called the von Willebrand factor (VWF), one of the main components of the blood coagulation system.
The study, led by senior research associate Anna Aksenova, aimed to investigate the role of VWF, as clotting is a significant part of deaths from COVID-19. According to the press release, the virus stimulates the development of microdamage on vessel walls, triggering the release of VWF into the blood. It tries to “patch” possible holes, often leading to the clotting associated with COVID-19 deaths.
Aksenova said that clotting isn’t the only COVID-19 symptom related to VWF.
“Acute respiratory distress syndrome, which often develops in patients with COVID-19, can also be associated with VWF,” she said. “There are studies that use the example of model animals and people and suggest: the higher VWF, the higher the probability of respiratory distress. Why does this happen? Because capillaries run through the lungs, and if any thrombotic events occur there, this adversely affects the tissue functions. Excessive production of VWF can lead to the development of thrombosis, including in the capillaries of the lungs.”
This hypothesis also explains why the drug chloroquine, which is usually used to treat malaria, may be helpful in COVID-19 treatment as well. Aksenova said chloroquine affects the process of autophagy in cells, which regulates the secretion of VWF into the extracellular environment.
“I hypothesize that the level and activity of VWF might be important predictors for COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. It might also itself be involved in the disease process,” Aksenova said.
Aksenova added that large scale research into the level and activity of VWF in people infected with SARS-CoV-2 is still necessary to confirm the hypothesis.
Researchers around the world are starting to focus on VWF, its role in COVID-19, and new treatment regimens that will take into account the individual characteristics of the human body associated with von Willebrand factor. Current research continues to come out in favor of the hypothesis, putting us one step closer in the fight against coronavirus.