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Breakthrough work on microclots may explain long COVID

Proteomics. Genomics. Systems biology. Machine learning.

Researchers at Stellenbosch University (SU) are using all possible tools to figure out how exactly the coronavirus disease (COVID), caused by the SARS-CoV2 virus, develops into long COVID, which affects an estimated 1,2 million South Africans.

Leading this collaborative, multidisciplinary effort is Prof Resia Pretorius, distinguished professor and head of the Department of Physiological Sciences at SU.

The likely suspects

In 2021, Pretorius made a breakthrough discovery when she discovered insoluble microclots in blood samples from individuals suffering from long COVID. For the first time, it made sense why some individuals, long after having contracted the virus, were still complaining of constant fatigue, brain fog, muscle pain and heart palpitations. Pretorius and a team of specialists and clinical collaborators have, to date, provided consistent evidence that COVID-19 is not a respiratory disease, as originally thought, but a complex multisystemic disease that causes widespread organ and tissue damage.

The latest report on long COVID from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), published in March 2022, identifies four potential causes of long COVID that need further investigation: the body’s autoimmune response, organ damage, microclots and the persistence of the virus in the body. Except for the latter, says Pretorius, they have thus far provided evidence confirming all these causes.

The journal Science recently listed microclots as one of the leading theories explaining the pathology of long COVID.

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