The world’s largest Covid research consortium, the Covid human genetic effort (COVIDhge), has shown that certain autoantibodies are responsible for a greater number of severe Covid-19 courses than previously assumed. More than ten percent of the severe cases examined showed misdirected antibodies that attacked the immune system rather than the virus, according to Ivan Tancevski, pulmonologist at the University Clinic for Internal Medicine II in an APA interview.
“Even boys without previous illnesses can become seriously ill”
Since autumn last year, Tancevski has been one of around 120 international experts who exchange views on the current state of research on a weekly basis as part of the COVIDhge consortium. The research network, which is headed by the award-winning Jean-Laurent Casanova (winner of the Ilse and Helmut Wachter Prize, among others) from Rockefeller University in New York, is currently advancing around 15 projects, reported Tancevski, who works at the University Clinic for Internal Medicine headed by Günter Weiss Medicine II is active. Among other things, the experts are looking for genetic causes for severe courses. “Even young people without previous illnesses can get seriously ill with Covid-19. Men, the elderly and those who have certain risk factors tend to be affected more often,” said the Innsbruck doctor, referring to known data on severe courses.
Thomas Staudinger, intensive care physician at Vienna General Hospital, reports that many patients in the intensive care units are mainly young people, some of whom you have to fight for for weeks.
Control group comprised 35,000 healthy people
In October last year, consortium leader Casanova discovered that some people seriously ill with corona have certain autoantibodies that negatively influence the immune response, the pulmonologist recalled. The latest investigations by the COVIDhge showed that this is the case above all for people over 70 and men. “Possibly a partial explanation of why these groups of people get more seriously ill,” concluded Tancevski.
These autoantibodies, which according to the experts carry around 0.3 percent of the total population, block so-called interferons in the body, which are involved in protecting against viruses. “Interferons are produced by certain cells in the lungs in response to virus stimuli. They do not attack the virus directly, but send signals to other lung cells so that they prevent the virus from multiplying and transmitting,” explained Tancevski. In patients with antibodies against interferons, the immune system no longer works properly, and their interferon levels were significantly reduced during the acute illness, said the doctor, who co-authored the study with his PhD student Sabina Sahanic.
For virologist Dorothee von Laer, those who have recovered only have suitable evidence through regular antibody tests.
Over 1,000 samples from seriously ill people from around the world were examined in the course of this study; the control group comprised 35,000 healthy people. “More than 20 percent of those over the age of 80 had the said autoantibodies,” Tancevski quoted the results as saying. The study continues, soon around 200 blood samples from Innsbruck, which were recently submitted, will also be taken into account.
Screening for Antibodies
The pulmonologist emphasized that the new findings would have an impact on the clinical therapy of seriously ill corona patients as well as on vaccination prioritization. So it should be thought that when new corona patients are admitted, screening will be carried out to find out whether the person carries those autoantibodies. “This would be associated with an increased risk of a severe course of the disease and you could react accordingly at an early stage,” said the scientist. This measurement is easy to carry out, and the necessary instruments can be quickly installed in existing laboratories, said Tancevski. Seriously ill patients with autoantibodies could be given interferons or neutralizing antibodies against SARS 2 in addition to steroid therapy. When vaccinating, people who carry the antibody should be included in the risk group, Tancevski quoted the opinion of the COVIDhge consortium. “You would have to prioritize this with the third trick,” he said.
In general, for vaccine expert Otfried Kistne, it is currently a “good time” for the third corona vaccination.