Using stem cells to understand the effects of COVID-19 on the brain

Julien Muffat, PhD, Toronto Children’s Hospital

Yun Li, PhD, Toronto Children’s Hospital





According to recent data, SARS-CoV-2 is not only likely to have serious effects on the lungs of those affected, but it can also attack the brain. Many patients with COVID-19 experience loss of smell and taste, pain, visual disturbances and headaches, indicating that the virus may be attacking specialized cells in the brain. At the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, researchers Julien Muffat and Yun Li are leading a team trying to assess how and why the virus targets the brain. They are building on their previous research on the Zika virus, a disease best known for the serious birth defects it can cause in babies.

Muffat and Li’s team of researchers is working to determine which types of brain cells are most vulnerable and how they respond to contact with SARS-CoV-2. Additionally, she is studying how immune cells in the brain are affected by the virus and the role they play in brain-related symptoms. Establishing how SARS-CoV-2 affects brain tissue will provide the basis for addressing the sensory effects that are reported by many patients with COVID-19.

SCN awarded $180K in support of this project through its COVID-19 Rapid Response Initiative and this grant was matched with matching funds worth $98K.

To learn more about stem cells and the fight against COVID-19, click here.