Researchers around the world have been puzzled by a deadly Covid-19 complication: blood clots that can cause swollen legs, rashes and even sudden death.

More than 30 percent of Covid-19 patients suffer from blood clots, which create lethal blockages in the lungs, kidneys, heart and brain.

Dr. Abd Al-Roof Higazi, head of the Division of Laboratories and Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, has found the mechanism that causes the clots.

Higazi and colleagues published a paper last year in the American Society of Hematology journal Blood about the peptide Alpha-defensin. They discovered that this peptide speeds up the creation of blood clots and prevents their disintegration.

This background helped them understand what was happening to Covid-19 patients because existing anticoagulant drugs don’t impact Alpha-defensin.

“We took blood samples from 80 patients in Hadassah’s Outbreak Department and found a high concentration of Alpha-defensin,” said Higazi. “The sicker the person, the higher the concentration of this peptide.”

Higazi and lab manager Suhair Abdeen are working on a new way to dissolve the blood clots. They are testing colchicine, an oral medication used for gout and familial Mediterranean fever. It has succeeded in reducing Alpha-defensin levels and blood clots in mice.

They are waiting approval to begin human trials.

Higazi said if the drug can dissolve blood clots in Covid-19 patients, it could vastly reduce the numbers of patients needing respirators.

“These patients have numerous blood clots in their lungs, preventing normal blood flow,” he explained. “We can also give it to those with mild symptoms to prevent the development of blood clots.”