The new coronavirus directly targets the pancreas, infecting and damaging its insulin producing cells, according to a new study.
The findings may help explain why blood sugar problems develop in many COVID-19 patients, and why there have been reports of diabetes developing as a result of the virus.
The pancreas has two jobs: production of enzymes important to digestion, and creation and release of the hormones insulin and glucagon that regulate blood sugar levels.
In a paper published on Wednesday in Nature Metabolism, researchers report that lab and autopsy studies show the new coronavirus infects pancreas cells involved in these processes and changes their shape, disturbs their genes, and impairs their function.
The new data "identify the human pancreas as a target of SARS-CoV-2 infection and suggest that beta-cell infection could contribute to the metabolic dysregulation observed in patients with COVID-19," the authors conclude.