"It's a blood supply problem," Pushie, a neuroscience research scientist at the University of Saskatchewan, said of COVID toes — a symptom characterized by a discolouration of toes or fingers.
"This has been appreciated widely in the scientific and health community that there was some link with COVID toes."
He's collaborating with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) and the Canadian Light Source to study the long-term effects of COVID-19.
He says besides outward symptoms like COVID toes, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 seems to be affecting many organs in the body.
"Some of these changes affect the heart, the brain, kidneys, liver, lungs," Pushie told Saskatoon Morning's Jennifer Quesnel. "So this isn't like just getting the common cold or getting the flu, which I think is very important to appreciate."
Pushie said the coronavirus appears to be attacking the lining of the blood vessels.
"If you've got problems with blood flow or blood supply, you're very quickly going to have some very acute problems in target organs," he said.
"The brain doesn't like being starved for blood flow. Neither does the heart, for example. So that can lead to heart attack or a stroke in the case of the heart of the brain."
And low blood flow can also lead to chronic complications, he added.
"Blood does a whole range of jobs. It removes waste from organs. It helps redistribute heat around the body. It delivers other nutrients besides oxygen. And then the lining of the blood vessels themselves are involved in hormone signaling throughout the body so they can communicate a problem in one area with other parts of the body.
"And the lining of the blood vessels is also one of the surfaces where you can have clots form," Pushie said
VIDO has already done research in developing animal models to study the effects of the coronavirus.
"The animal models let us study what happens with infection in the long term in a very controlled setting," Pushie said.
And now they are using the Canadian Light Source synchrotron — which accelerates and bends beams of electrons to create a light so bright it can reveal details not otherwise able to be seen — to do next generation imaging of tissues to study what things that can't be seen with a microscope.
"What the synchrotron lets us do is directly interrogate some of these molecules that are present in the tissue so we can identify what metabolic state a tissue is in," Pushie said.
WATCH | How the Canadian Light Source synchrotron works:
"In a lot of cases, we can go from looking at large sections of tissue at the whole organ level, and we can drill all the way down to looking at individual cells — for example, lining blood vessels — and seeing what's happening with those," and whether they're in a normal or diseased state, he said.
"And we can also see immune cells as they respond to inflammation and things like that," he said. "So it's a lot more information than we could normally get sitting at our bench in the lab."
Pushie said researchers have completed their pilot studies and hope to release some preliminary findings by the fall.