A new study suggests that embryos of women exposed to SARS-CoV-2 virus could be susceptible to COVID-19 as early as the second week of pregnancy. The findings were published in the Royal Society’s journal Open Biology.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology looked at the expression of key genes in the human embryo during its developmental stages.
They found that the expression of the genes ACE2, encoding the SARS-CoV-2 receptor, and TMPRSS2, encoding a protease that cleaves the SARS-COV-2 spike protein and the ACE2 receptor, occurred during the pre-gastrulation stages of embryonic development. Furthermore, they were expressed in parts of the embryo that proceed to develop into tissues involved in nutrient exchange with the mother.
According to the authors, the findings suggest that COVID-19 could potentially affect the ability of the embryo to correctly implant into the womb or could have implications for the health of the foetus. They say that while women should not be overly concerned by these findings, it is important for those planning for a baby to try to reduce their risk of infection.
For a better understanding of the risk to the embryos, further research would be needed using stem cell models and in non-human primates.