T-cells of COVID-19 patients can be used to reduce disease risk in immunocompromised people, claims study
It has previously been shown that COVID-19 patients develop strong T-cell-based immunity, which stays for longer than antibodies in the bloodstream.
Over 43 million people in the world have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. Of these, more than 32 million patients have recovered and over 1.1 million have died.
Over the past few months, healthcare experts and researchers have proposed several therapies for the management of the condition. Out of these, antibody therapy or administration of convalescent plasma has shown to help in extreme conditions. The therapy involves transferring COVID-19 specific antibodies from recovered patients to high-risk patients as a preventive measure or for reducing the severity of symptoms in severe cases.
Now, a group of researchers at the Children’s National Hospital, USA, say that similar to antibodies, T cells from recovering COVID-19 patients can also be used as immunotherapy against the disease in immunocompromised people such as those who have had an organ transplant.
The findings of their study are published in the peer-reviewed journal Blood.
T cells are a type of white blood cells that are mainly responsible for fighting intracellular pathogens like viruses. CD4 cells, a type of T cell, present antigens to various immune system cells and help in antibody maturation.
Just like antibodies, T cells specialise to target specific antigens. It has previously been shown that COVID-19 patients develop strong T-cell-based immunity, which stays for longer than antibodies in the bloodstream.
The current study
The latest study is inspired by the encouraging evidence obtained from the phase 1 clinical trials done at the Children’s National Hospital on the effectiveness of T cells trained to target Epstein Barr virus, the causative agent of mononucleosis. The trial results have shown that T-cell therapy is effective and safe against a variety of viruses and can hence be used to treat and prevent viral diseases.
Based on the findings of the trial, the researchers hypothesized that T-cell immunotherapy can also be used to manage and prevent COVID-19 , especially in immunocompromised patients. This can help them develop a strong immune response before they are exposed to the virus and, hence, they may not get severe COVID-19 .
To conduct the study, the scientists separated COVID-19 specific T cells from the peripheral blood of recovered COVID-19 patients. These T cells were then multiplied inside the lab. It was noted that CD4 cells targeted specific epitopes in the virus including the spike protein and that nucleocapsids were present in abundance in the taken samples.
Interestingly, these T cells cross-reacted with various variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, suggesting that they are effective against multiple strains of the COVID-19 causing virus.
In a news release by the Children’s National Hospital, the authors of the study said that immunocompromised patients, either due to cancer, chronic diseases or organ transplant, are not able to mount an immune response to clear the virus on their own. Their conditions also make vaccines unsafe for them. Most vaccines contain either a killed or weak version of the disease-causing agent. In the absence of an immune response, even a weaker version of the pathogen may pose a threat to the health of such patients.
The researchers suggested that T-cell therapy could be a viable option for the prevention or treatment of the disease in such cases.
For more information, read our article on Immune system and immunity.
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