A new study published in today’s issue of PLoS Pathogens Iit’s the first to link SARS-CoV-2 specific T cells to lung function and those with long-term COVID symptoms (PASC). Long-covid is currently affecting hundreds of millions of Americans.
The study found that patients with long COVID had levels of virus-specific T cells more than 100 times higher than those who recovered from the disease.
“The persistence of high numbers of virus-specific T cells in people with long COVID suggests that there may be hidden viral reservoirs that maintain themselves and lead to long-term symptoms. Current treatments for long COVIDs, by necessity, focus on treating specific symptoms, not the root cause of the disease. This evidence indicates that reservoirs are an important factor driving long COVID, which may guide future treatments,” said the paper’s lead author, Brent Palmer, PhD, associate professor of allergy and of clinical immunology at University of Colorado School of Medicine on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
The findings could shift treatment recommendations to focus on vaccines and antiviral drugs that could reduce long-running COVID symptoms and help clear the virus from people’s systems.
The study addressed the cause of long COVID by better understanding the adaptive immune response to SARS-CoV-2. The research team’s findings linked systemic inflammation, persistent lung symptoms, and reduced lung function to the presence of high numbers of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells. During primary infection, these virus-specific T cells are important for controlling infection, but in the setting of long COVID, they are associated with persistent symptoms, shortness of breath, and lung damage.
Long COVID keeps more than a million Americans out of work
Brookings Institution estimates that more than one million Americans are out of work due to the long COVID. Additionally, with over 500 million people infected during the pandemic so far, and 20-30% of them developing long COVID, that leaves over 15 million people suffering from long COVID globally. This represents a heavy burden for the population and the health system.
“Our findings hope to help shift the focus of treatment towards therapies that improve viral clearance. For example, antiviral drugs like Paxlovid could help reduce symptoms in people burdened by long COVID, helping to clear the virus from their system and return them to a more normal life,” Palmer said.
The study also looked at two key biomarkers used to measure inflammation in the body. The researchers found that the higher the levels of The higher the inflammation measure, the higher the SARS-CoV-2 T cells, indicating that these T cells may also play a role in driving chronic inflammation and other prolonged COVID symptoms. .
Without continued studies focused on the origin of long COVID, Palmer said people, the workforce and the healthcare system will continue to suffer.
“It is clear that symptomatic treatments of kitchen sinks have not solved this problem. We need to continue this research in order to develop specific treatments for those whose lives have been completely uprooted because of a virus that we are still trying to understand,” adds Palmer.
Palmer and his team applied for a grant from the National Institutes for Health (NIH) to continue this research. If approved, they could wash cells from the lungs using a noninvasive procedure that would allow them to compare cells from patients with long COVID to cells from people without the virus.
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