Immunologists have discovered possible treatments for COVID-19 using existing therapies.
Researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has identified the process that drives life-threatening inflammatory injuries and organ failure that plague coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients. The study suggests that a potential treatment strategy could be possible using drugs that already exist.
The study, published in the online journal Cell, discovered that the hyperinflammatory immune response associated with COVID-19 leads to multiorgan failure and tissue damage in mice. This was found to be caused by a release of the inflammatory cell death pathways. The research determined how this process works, which eventually led to the discovery of potential therapies to disrupt it.
“Understanding the pathways and mechanism that drive this inflammation is essential to developing effective treatment strategies,”
Cytokines are small proteins that are secreted by immune cells and help ensure a rapid response to limit a virus. Some cytokines have been shown to trigger inflammation, which explains the high cytokine levels in COVID-19 patients. However, the exact pathways that initiate the cytokines and the molecular mechanisms behind them were unknown. The study showed that the cytokine PANoptosis was the main source that burned the inflammation through cell death and inflammatory molecules.
The research concludes that the cytokine-mediated inflammatory cell death process caused by PANoptosis is at the center of inflammatory damage. The cytokine storm releases more cytokines, intensifies systemic inflammation and results in more inflammatory molecules. Many cytokine inhibitors are already on the market and can be used to potentially treat inflammation, making these findings a crucial next step in the fight against COVID-19.
“We have solved a large piece of the mystery of the cytokine storm by characterizing critical factors responsible for initiating this process and thereby identifying a unique combination treatment using existing drugs that can be used in the clinic to save lives,” said Kanneganti .