Prof Katherine Kedzierska & team make world first discovery on COVID-19

Prof Katherine Kedzierska & team make world first discovery on COVID-19

As the world’s leading medical experts work to create a COVID-19 vaccine, researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne have discovered new facts to help take the global community closer towards making it happen.

Laboratory head Professor Katherine Kedzierska and her team have spent years researching ways our bodies fight viruses, and in the last few days, they have published research that shows our immune system responded to coronavirus in the same way we try to fight the flu.

“The immune cell populations we have seen emerging before patients recover are the same cells that we see in influenza,” Professor Kedzierska told the ABC. “This information will allow us to evaluate any vaccine candidate as in an ideal world the vaccine should mimic our body’s immune response.” 

The researchers, including infectious disease physician Dr Irani Thevarajan and Melbourne University Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Carolien Van de Sandt, took the blood samples of one of the country’s first patients diagnosed with coronavirus and identified the antibodies recruited by the body to fight the illness.

After three days of monitoring, they found an emergence of immune cells in the patient’s blood. Professor Kedzierska believes the “study is “an important step in understanding how our body recovers from a mild to moderate infection of COVID-19.”

“Understanding what’s lacking or different in people with severe or fatal COVID-19 disease could lead to new therapeutics,” she said. 

Their research will allow doctors to use markers in the blood to screen patients to assess the likelihood of them developing more serious symptoms.

Dr Carolien Van de Sandt, co-writer and participant of the research, titled “Breadth of concomitant immune responses prior to patient recovery: a case report of non-severe COVID-19”, told the ABC that with this new data, “…you could say upfront, this would be a severe case, or this will probably be a milder case. Then you could alter their care to what the patient might need.”

Dr Thevarajan, who is also the Senior Staff Specialist at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Service in Melbourne told the ABC her “Research Preparedness Platform” has been set up to ensure the concrete and procedural framework for tackling such viruses is ready to go.

“Everything from start to end is there, from patient identification to sample analysis and storage,” she said. “You can imagine there’s some ethical consideration when taking samples from patients and information from patients, so the ethical framework was there as well.” 

Their research, which was published in Nature magazine over the weekend, now provides researchers elsewhere the chance to apply their techniques to the blood samples of other patients. 

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