Researchers at Northwestern Medicine show that COVID-19 pneumonia is significantly different than other pneumonia. Scientists took cells from patients’ lung fluid and looked at the RNA and the proteins those cells express, enabling them to identify how these immune cells drive inflammation. Instead of rapidly infecting large regions of the lung, the virus causing COVID-19 sets up shop in multiple small areas of the lung. It then hijacks the lungs’ immune cells and uses them to spread across the lung over many days or even weeks, like multiple wildfires spreading across a forest.
As the infection slowly moves across the lung, it leaves damage in its wake and continuously fuels the fever, low blood pressure, and damage to the kidneys, brain, heart, and other organs in patients with COVID-19. The severe complications of COVID-19 compared with other pneumonia might be related to the long course of the disease rather than more severe disease. The researchers have identified critical targets to treat severe SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia. These targets are the immune cells: T-cells and macrophages.
This study suggested that macrophages, which are typically charged with protecting the lung can be infected by SARS-CoV-2 and can contribute to spreading the infection through the lung. The researchers at Northwestern Medicine. will test an experimental drug to treat these targets in COVID-19 pneumonia patients in a clinical trial early in 2021. The drug to be tested quiets the inflammatory response of these immune cells, thus enabling initiation of the repair process in the injured lung.
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