PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Health & Science University's research monkeys are once again being employed to help solve medical mysteries.
This time, the non-human primates will be part of research about why some people who have been infected with COVID-19 develop type one diabetes after their COVID symptoms fade. Studies show those who have had the virus are at increased risk for developing both obesity and diabetes.
“And so the exact mechanism — you know, the changes that cause these things, how severe they are and how long they're going to last — is still pretty unclear,” said Charles Roberts, Ph.D., a professor and associate director for research at OHSU’s Oregon National Primate Research Center, and one of the study's lead researchers.
Roberts said they will study 20 rhesus macaques split into two groups: one group obese and the other not. All will be infected with COVID-19.
“And so we hope to in the non-human primate model where we know these animals in the study did not have pre-existing diabetes of any type, and so any diabetes we see is going to be this new COVID-triggered diabetes,” said Roberts.
If diabetes does develop in the test monkeys, researchers will examine the reasons why, so that methods can be developed to treat and hopefully prevent this condition in humans.
“And we're going to be focusing on particular cells in the pancreas, particularly the eyelets that make insulin and other things that regulate glucose metabolism,” said the researcher.
Along with diabetes and obesity, experts have been watching for other health problems in people that appear to be spurred by COVID-19, especially those who have gotten long COVID. That includes kidney disease, heart failure, stroke, even hair loss and impotency. This study may help there, too.
“So, while we're focusing on a particular aspect, then the material we get can be shared and used to look at quite an array of post-COVID disorders," Roberts said.
OHSU was awarded a $2.5 million dollar National Institutes of Health grant to do the study. It is set to take two years, although Roberts said they may start seeing results within six months.