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NCSA Researchers Co-Author Article on the Damaging Effects of COVID-19 on Lung Tissue

Creative computer rendition of red SARS-COV-2 virus particles on a darker blue and black background.

Creative rendition of SARS-COV-2 virus particles. Note: not to scale. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH

Researchers and faculty affiliates from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign recently published an article in Science Translational Medicine titled “Lung epithelial and endothelial damage, loss of tissue repair, inhibition of fibrinolysis, and cellular senescence in fatal COVID-19.” NCSA worked alongside leading scientists at the National Institutes of Health and Institute for Systems Biology to understand how the virus affects the lungs. The findings from this study explain why certain populations are more affected and will also inform future interventions and treatments.

The Center’s involvement in this multi-institutional effort stems from an ongoing collaboration including NCSA Visual Analytics’ Charles Blatti, Colleen Bushell, and Lisa Gatzke, UIUC Statistics Professor Ruoqing Zhu, ISB Scientist Kathie Walters, and NIH Scientist John Kash. Their research primarily focused on analyzing and visualizing biological data to learn how the body responds to flu and COVID infections.

I am especially grateful for the opportunity to work closely with our collaborators at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and ISB to develop impactful analysis tools to better decode the complexities of the immune system and understand the gene changes that accompany severe cases of COVID-19 and the flu.

Charles Blatti, Research Scientist, NCSA Visual Analytics

NIH NIAID’s Jeffrey Taubenberger, Chief of the Viral Pathogenesis and Evolution Section in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, leads the effort behind this publication. The study analyzed lung tissue samples from COVID-19 patients with severe infections, which showed substantial molecular changes, including diffuse alveolar damage, disrupted tissue repair mechanisms, extensive blood clotting, and fibrosis. Researchers also discovered potential links that may explain why certain populations are adversely affected more than others.

According to an NIH press release from November, the study “provided a clearer picture of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads and damages lung tissue,” producing results that “could help predict severe and prolonged COVID-19 cases, particularly among high-risk people, and inform effective treatments.”

Read more about this study in NIH’s press release.

This project was funded by the NIAID, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Swiss National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation’s science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students and collaborators from around the globe use these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world’s industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

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