Coronavirus: Immune system’s response to COVID-19 mapped for the first time

Scientists in Australia say they have for the first time mapped how the body’s immune system responds to coronavirus, an important step in the possible creation of an effective vaccine.

Researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne were able to test blood samples at four different time points in an otherwise healthy woman in her 40s, who presented with COVID-19 and had mild-to-moderate symptoms.

The report, published in the journal Nature Medicine, focused an a 47-year-old woman from Wuhan, Hubei province, China who had travelled to Australia 11 days before she began to display symptoms.

She turned up at a Melbourne A & E complaining of lethargy, sore throat, dry cough, pleuritic chest pain, shortness of breath and fever.

She was otherwise healthy and was a non-smoker taking no medications. Her condition was managed through intravenous fluid rehydration without supplemental oxygenation. No antibiotics, steroids or antiviral agents were used.

The research team was able to use her blood samples to map the response of her immune system to the virus.

One of the authors of the paper, research fellow Dr Oanh Nguyen said this was the first time that broad immune responses to COVID-19 have been reported.

“We looked at the whole breadth of the immune response in this patient using the knowledge we have built over many years of looking at immune responses in patients hospitalised with influenza,” Dr Nguyen said.

“Three days after the patient was admitted, we saw large populations of several immune cells, which are often a tell-tale sign of recovery during seasonal influenza infection, so we predicted that the patient would recover in three days, which is what happened.”

Working together with Professor Katherine Kedzierska, a leading influenza immunology researcher at the University of Melbourne, the team was able to dissect the immune response leading to successful recovery from COVID-19, which might be the secret to finding an effective vaccine.

“We showed that even though COVID-19 is caused by a new virus, in an otherwise healthy person, a robust immune response across different cell types was associated with clinical recovery, similar to what we see in influenza,” Professor Kedzierska said.

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