Scientists have made a discovery as they continue their research on the coronavirus, finding that its cells have the ability to destroy the exact things that should fight it.
The results were published earlier this week in a medical journal Cellular and molecular immunology and corresponded to fears expressed by doctors that the virus could cause damage similar to that seen in patients with HIV infection.
In their experiment, the scientists attached the living COVID-19 virus to T cells grown in the laboratory.
T cells, or T lymphocytes, play an essential role in the body’s ability to find and destroy foreign cells in the body.
T cells are generally capable of capturing a cell infected with a virus, drilling a hole in the cell and injecting chemicals into its membrane that destroy both the virus and the cell.
However, in the researchers’ experience, T cells were instead taken hostage by the coronavirus.
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According to the research team, T cells were indeed “prey” for the coronavirus, which then deactivated the cell’s rescue function.
A similar experiment was carried out on the deadly SARS virus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, but this virus could not have had the same effect on the body’s T cells.
As reported by South China Morning Post, autopsy reports on more than 20 patients have found extremely low T-lymphocytes in people who have died from coronaviruses.
Post-mortem examinations revealed that the patients had almost completely destroyed the immune system.
The scientists noted a main difference in their comparison between the coronavirus and HIV.
In COVID-19 patients, the coronavirus could not grow or generate more infected cells after becoming attached to T cells.
The new study comes less than a week after Australian researchers developed a rapid test to determine how well a person is immune to the coronavirus.
Samples of cells from some of the world’s coronavirus hotspots – including Italy, China and New York – in a few days.
Scientists will then be able to test the severity of a person’s coronavirus and the person most likely to develop the disease.
“This test and others like this will provide us with a more nuanced approach to disease management,” said lead researcher, associate professor Menno van Zelm, of the Central Clinical School at Monash University.