Researchers find ‘vulnerability factor’ that leads to severe Covid-19 cases

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on September 09, 2020 Published on September 09, 2020

Say, this ‘molecular brake’ on the immune system could serve as a potential new treatment target in patients with severe Covid-19

According to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, older people and people with co-morbidities may have a possible vulnerability factor that debilitates their condition if they get coronavirus.

The researchers found that these risk groups produce greater quantities of an important type of immune cell known as ‘T-helper cells’. However, their T-helper cells show impaired function.

Researchers described it as a ‘molecular brake’ on the immune system that could serve as a potential new treatment target in patients with severe Covid-19.

Earlier studies also claimed that older people or people with co-morbidities, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, were more susceptible and vulnerable to the virus.

For the study, the researchers collected blood samples from 39 Covid-19 patients who had been admitted to Charité for treatment.

The researchers used these blood samples to isolate immune cells which they then stimulated with specially synthesised fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the authors mentioned in their study.

They also used specific dyes to make SARS-CoV-2 visible, the researchers then counted T-helper cells which had reacted to the viral fragments.

The researchers were able to show a positive correlation between the frequency of virus-specific T-helper cells and the patients’ age.

The same positive correlation was found to exist in relation to the Comorbidity Index, a compound measure expressing the severity of 19 different underlying medical conditions: the higher the patient’s Comorbidity Index, the higher the number of SARS-CoV-2-specific T-helper cells in their blood.

The team also mentioned they found that advancing age and overall comorbidity scores were linked to a decrease in the proportion of cells producing the messenger substance interferon-gamma (IFN), a cytokine critical to both innate and adaptive immunity, stimulates natural killer cells and neutrophils.

Arne Sattler, a researcher in the Translational Immunology Research Group at Charité’s Department of General, Visceral and Vascular Surgery, summed up the findings and said in a statement: “One might say that these T-helper cells are being slowed down in people with risk factors. We believe this has the potential to hamper the body’s ability to mount an effective response against the pathogen.”

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Published on September 09, 2020
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