Research by the Human Cell Atlas (HCA) biological network has identified two cell types in the nose have high levels of entry proteins for SARS-CoV-2 into cells, thereby explaining the high transmission rate of the virus. The same proteins were found in the cornea of the eye and in the lining of the intestine.

The study, which was published in Nature Medicine today, also predicts how one of the entry protein is regulated with other immune system gene, therefore identifying potential targets for the development of treatments against Covid-19.

The HCA biological network includes researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, University Medical Centre Groningen, University Cote d’Azur and French National Centre for Scientific Research.

Senior author of the study from Wellcome Sanger Institute and HCA organising committe co-chair Dr Sarah Teichmann commented: “As we’re building the Human Cell Atlas it is already being used to understand COVID-19 and identify which of our cells are critical for initial infection and transmission. This information can be used to better understand how coronavirus spreads.

“Knowing which exact cell types are important for virus transmission also provides a basis for developing potential treatments to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Wellcome director Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar added: “Researchers around the world are working at an unprecedented pace to deepen our understanding of COVID-19, and this new research is testament to this.

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“Collaborating across borders and openly sharing research is crucial to developing effective diagnostics, treatments and vaccines quickly, ensuring no country is left behind.”