Qld study gives hope of new COVID breakthrough
A discovery by Queensland researchers provides hope for the development of a simple blood test to determine whether patients with newly diagnosed COVID-19 are likely to become seriously unwell.
Using blood samples from 44 recovered COVID-19 patients, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute scientists have been able to develop a way to rapidly assess immune system responses to the disease.
Although much more work needs to be done, if a blood test did become available, it would allow doctors to monitor COVID-19 patients more closely and to treat them earlier.
Study leader Corey Smith said the research also opened up the possibility for the development of an immunotherapeutic treatment for COVID-19.
Associate Professor Smith said QIMR Berghofer had developed a prototype test that detects two molecules - interferon gamma and interleukin-2 - involved in killing cells infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The molecules are produced by T cells when they recognise SARS-CoV-2-infected cells and start to fight the infection.
T cells are the immune system's artillery that recognise and destroy cells infected with viruses.
Associate Professor Smith said the scientists isolated T cells from the donated blood of the COVID-19 patients and from 20 healthy donors who had never been infected with SARS-CoV-2.
They then exposed them to SARS-CoV-2 fragments.
The researchers found the T cells of people who had recovered from COVID-19 produced bigger amounts of interferon gamma and interleukin-2 than the healthy donors.
They have received a Medical Research Future Fund grant to explore immunotherapy treatment options for COVID-19.
Professor Smith said that would involve taking T cells from recovered COVID-19 patients, growing them in the laboratory and then using them to treat people ill with the virus.
QIMR Berghofer is a recognised leader in T cell therapies.
Although COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be rolled out in Australia from March, Professor Smith said research into new tests and treatments for the disease remained important.
"People who don't respond to vaccines well are still at risk of COVID-19," he said.
"That's really where we think we can hopefully help as we move forward."
More than 67 million cases of pandemic coronavirus have been recorded, including 1.54 million confirmed deaths.
In Australia, 908 people have died of the disease and more than 27,000 people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Prof Smith is still looking for people who have recovered from COVID-19 to provide blood samples for analysis.
For more information: www.qimrberghofer.edu.au/study/covid-19-immunity-study/
Originally published as Qld study gives hope of new COVID breakthrough