Scientists have made a discovery as they continue to research coronavirus, finding its cells have the ability to destroy the exact things that should be fighting it.
A team of researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and the New York Blood Centre researched the virus’s ability to kill powerful immune cells – the exact things that are supposed to kill coronavirus.
The findings were published earlier this week in medical journal Cellular and Molecular Immunology and were in line with previous fears expressed by doctors that the virus could cause damage similar to what’s seen in HIV patients.
In their experiment, scientists attached the living COVID-19 virus onto lab-grown T cells. T cells, or T lymphocytes, play an integral role in the body’s ability to find and destroy alien cells in the body.
Typically T cells are able to capture a cell infected by a virus, drill a hole into the cell and inject chemicals into its membrane that destroys both the virus and cell.
However in the researchers’ experiment, the T cells were instead taken “hostage” by coronavirus. According to the team of researchers, the T cells were effectively “prey” for coronavirus, which then disabled the lifesaving function of the cells.
A similar experiment was carried out on the deadly SARS virus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, however that virus was unable to have the same effect on the body’s T cells.
As reported by the South China Morning Post, autopsy reports on more than 20 patients found extremely low T cell counts in people that had died from coronavirus.
The autopsy examinations found the patients had almost completely destroyed immune systems.
The scientists did note one main difference in their comparison between coronavirus and HIV. In COVID-19 patients, coronavirus was not able to grow or generate more infected cells after latching onto T cells.
The new study comes less than a week after Australian researchers developed a rapid test to determine how immune a person would be to coronavirus.
Cell samples from some of the world’s coronavirus hotspots – including Italy, China and New York – in days.
Scientists will then be able to test how severe a person’s coronavirus could become and who is most likely to develop the illness.
“This and other tests like it will provide us with a more nuanced approach to managing the disease,” lead researcher Associate Professor Menno van Zelm, from Monash University’s Central Clinical School, said.