Tulane study says strong initial immune response could produce worst COVID-19 outcome

Coronavirus
Dr. Monica Vaccari is the lead author of a new study that found having a robust initial immune response to coronavirus infection might not be helpful in fighting off the virus. (Photo by Sally Asher)

Dr. Monica Vaccari is the lead author of a new study that found having a robust initial immune response to coronavirus infection might not be helpful in fighting off the virus. (Photo by Sally Asher)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (KLFY) — The stronger a body’s initial immune response to COVID-19, the worse the eventual outcome of the disease could be, suggests a new study from Tulane University.

A new study published in Nature Communications, led by Dr. Monica Vaccari, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane National Primate Research Center, suggests that COVID-19 could create problems by overtriggering the body’s immune response.

It starts with inflammation — the body’s natural immune response.

“A pro-inflammatory response is usually our body’s first line of defense, and it can be a very helpful mechanism. But what we’re seeing with coronavirus infection is that somewhere down the line, there is uncontrolled inflammation. We want to know when and why this happens,” says Vaccari. 

Too much inflammation in the lungs, for example, can result in decreased oxygen. 

Vaccari said understanding what happens in the immune system during the short period following infection will be essential in developing effective therapies against COVID-19. While immune functions can be modulated, scientists want to avoid “turning off” immune responses that may be critical to fighting infection.  

One of the most frustrating aspects of the coronavirus is the broad range of disease outcomes associated with it. A disease that causes few or mild symptoms for most also has the capacity to cause severe and lasting damage or death for others. While scientists and clinicians have long suspected that it is the host — or person that acquires the disease — that dictates the disease’s severity, they have not known which specific individual immune markers are harmful and which are protective, particularly in the earliest stages of disease.

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