Barts Charity has provided start-up funding for researchers at Queen Mary University of London to screen the impact of the pollution toxins of the most concern using lab-grown human cells. This funding forms part of a suite of seed grants provided to help gain insight into the pathology and impact of a number of conditions affecting the health of East Londoners, including COVID-19.
While there is increasing concern that breathing in pollutants increases the risk of developing the disease, data from existing epidemiological studies is unable to provide clear answers to this question with any degree of immediacy.
Project lead Professor Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, says:
“The importance of this work is that it aims to show that the association between exposure to increased fossil fuel pollution and increased vulnerability to COVID-19 reported in population studies is biologically plausible.”
Researchers already know that COVID-19 hijacks and infects cells which contain the enzyme ACE2. This study will look at whether different toxins from air pollution increase ACE2 cells on the surface of the lungs, allowing COVID-19 cells to take effect.
The study will, for the first time, screen a wide range of inhaled toxins such as particles from car exhausts and the London Underground, cigarette smoke and vape, to see if they increase susceptibility to COVID-19.
Researchers will also look at therapies which may reduce the amount of ACE2 and therefore reduce the effects of COVID-19, including nicotine, immune boosters, and antioxidants.
Chief Executive of Barts Charity, Fiona Miller Smith, says:
“We’re extremely pleased to support Professor Grigg’s work. East London was badly hit during the first wave of the pandemic, with Newham in particular taking the brunt.
“We also know that some of our roads and neighbourhoods are among the most polluted in the country and so we are potentially facing something of a dual threat to public health.
“By making this investment we hope to stimulate understanding that will not only protect our local community but have a positive impact right across the country.”