KUALA LUMPUR, April 13 – A new study suggests that Covid-19 may kill immune cells in the human body that are meant to kill the virus.
South China Morning Post reported that this finding by a team of researchers from Shanghai, China, and New York, the United States, coincided with frontline doctors’ observations that Covid-19 could attack one’s immune system and cause damage similar to that in HIV patients.
The scientists, in an experiment on the living virus on laboratory-grown T cells — which identify and kill invaders in the human body — found that T cells were infected and killed by the Covid-19 virus.
Experiments done on the coronavirus that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 showed that the virus did not have the ability to do the same.
Future studies on the matter could bring in “new ideas about pathogenic mechanisms and therapeutic interventions,” said SCMP, citing the researchers in a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Cellular & Molecular Immunology.
Previously, a team from the PLA’s Institute of Immunology found out that in Covid-19 patients, T cells can decrease rapidly, causing significant increase in risk of death, especially in elderly and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) patients. This was later further confirmed by an autopsy on 10 patients, which proved that their immune systems were almost fully destroyed by the virus.
But it was also found that other deadly viruses such as AIDS and Ebola also showcase similar traits, suggesting that the novel coronavirus may have been spreading for a long time before it became a pandemic.
Despite the similarities, the new research found out that there is one difference between Covid-19-causing coronavirus and HIV, which is the latter’s ability to replicate in T-cells.
HIV cells can multiply in T-cells and generate more copies to infect other cells, whereas the coronavirus does not have this ability, suggesting that the T-cell and the virus might end up dying together.
Some patients also undergo cytokine storms, where their immune system overwhelms and starts attacking healthy cells, but the reason for this is not known.
Malaysia is currently working to test an anti-arthritis drug to treat cytokine storms among patients with severe Covid-19.
University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) has already used tocilizumab (trade name Actemra) on several Covid-19 patients who developed cytokine storms and said that the results were encouraging.
“Out of eight patients who were very ill who received tocilizumab, we managed to prevent six from being ventilated. All of these patients are now doing very well,” the public university hospital said in a statement.