Human immune response against COVID-19 mapped for the first time

On Tuesday, Australian researchers reported that they have successfully mapped the human body’s immune response to the coronavirus.

A soldier takes the temperature of a commuter at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys (Camp Humphreys), South Korea, Feb. 27, 2020.
Image credits U.S. Army / Pfc. Kang, Min-jin.

This is the first time anyone has mapped the general immune response of our bodies against the new virus, with potentially huge implications for the discovery of a cure. The findings were made from blood samples taken from a COVID-19 patient that was hospitalized with moderate symptoms.

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“We saw a really robust immune response that preceded clinical recovery,” Katherine Kedzierska, from the University of Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, told AFP.

“We noted an immune response but she was visually still unwell, and three days later the patient recovered.”

By establishing a baseline condition for patients with moderate cases of the disease, the team explains, we can start piecing together what’s different or missing in patients who become fatally ill.

The team says that their findings have two important applications. First, it will allow virologists to develop a vaccine, as vaccines aim to replicate the body’s natural immune response to viruses. They identified four distinct groups of immune cells in the blood of the COVID-19 patient during recovery, which is “very similar to what we see in patients with influenza,” according to Kedzierska. This is particularly exciting as we do have a broadly-effective influenza vaccine.

Until then, the findings could also help authorities better screen for infected individuals, and make more reliable predictions about at-risk groups in future outbreaks. The immune system markers identified in this study could, at least in theory, also be used to predict which patients will develop a mild case of the disease, and which are at risk of developing a more severe case.

Most COVID-19 deaths were recorded in elderly patients or those who had preexisting medical conditions, most notably heart disease and diabetes. Kedzierska said that more research is needed to understand why but, so far, children seem to avoid infection and show few or no symptoms after contracting the virus.

Hopefully, the findings of this study will be translated into an efficient cure or vaccine as soon as possible.

The paper “Breadth of concomitant immune responses prior to patient recovery: a case report of non-severe COVID-19” has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.

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