Researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University have launched a new study to help us better understand how the body’s immune system responds to COVID-19.
Any time there is a threat to the body, the immune system is activated. Some early reports from scientists and physicians working with COVID-19 patients indicate that this virus may cause a cytokine storm, or a heightened immune response, in some patients.
A cytokine storm, or a heightened immune response results when excessive levels of cytokines, the activating compounds of immune cells, are released into the bloodstream to attack the virus. This can lead to lung inflammation and respiratory distress. The leading cause of death for patients with COVID-19 is respiratory failure with or without multiorgan dysfunction.
“Some researchers are suggesting that mortality could be improved with immunosuppressive therapies, however, evidence to support this is severely lacking at this time,” explains Dr. Douglas Fraser, lead researcher and Paediatric Critical Care Physician at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).
Daily blood samples are being taken from patients at LHSC who are presumed to have COVID-19. The samples are tested for inflammatory biomarkers and this information is recorded to track the changing immune response over time. The immune response in COVID-19 positive patients will also be compared to the immune response in patients with other infections, as well as in healthy controls. Clinical data of enrolled patients is also being recorded, and can be used in future studies.
Dr. Fraser, also a Lawson Scientist and Professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, explains, “if a hyperinflammatory response is found to contribute to greater adverse outcomes from COVID-19, there are current therapies available to help these cases. This study could also inform why some people become critically ill and others do not, and help determine who will respond to certain therapies.”
This research will help provide an overall understanding of how the immune system reacts to COVID-19. With this understanding, targeted therapies can be developed to improve patient outcome and reduce Intensive Care Unit (ICU) demand. As a hospital-based research institute, laboratories at Lawson are uniquely positioned to handle these types of studies, as close proximity to patients and sample collection is essential.
COVID-19, also referred to as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, is a new respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, China. On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. As of March 26, 2020, there are over 510,000 confirmed cases and over 22,000 recorded deaths world-wide.
To support COVID-19 research at Lawson, you can make a donation through London Health Sciences Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund.