MIT Scientists & Colleagues Identify Cells Likely Targeted by COVID-19 Virus: Specific Cells in Nasal Passages, Lungs, and Intestines; Team Also Shows That Interferon Activates ACE2 Receptor That CORVID-19 Binds to Gain Entry to Cells

Researchers at MIT; the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard; along with colleagues from around the world, have identified specific types of cells that appear to be targets of the coronavirus that is causing the COVID-19 pandemic. Using existing data on the RNA found in different types of cells, the researchers were able to search for cells that express the two proteins (ACE2 & TMRSS) that help the SARS-CoV-19 virus enter human cells. They found subsets of cells in the lung, the nasal passages, and the intestine that express RNA for both of these proteins much more than other cells. The researchers hope that their findings will help guide scientists who are working on developing new drug treatments or testing existing drugs that could be repurposed for treating COVID-19. "Our goal is to get information out to the community and to share data as soon as is humanly possible, so that we can help accelerate ongoing efforts in the scientific and medical communities," says Alex K. Shalek, PhD, the Pfizer-Laubach Career Development Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT, a core member of MIT's Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), an extramural member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, an associate member of the Ragon Institute, and an institute member at the Broad Institute. Dr. Shalek and Jose Ordovas-Montanes, PhD, a former MIT postdoc who now runs his own lab at Boston Children's Hospital, are the senior authors of the study, which was published online on April 21, 2020 in Cell (
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