BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: interferons

That’s a Foul: “Interfere”-ons and the Fight Against Covid-19

Great news to those infected with Covid-19 – scientists have discovered a new (if risky) way to ameliorate the disease’s advanced symptoms.

According to Scientific American, several studies have concluded that immune proteins could suppress the potentially fatal “viral replication” that results from Covid-19. The proteins in question, called “interferons,” are released in “response to virus infection” and “induce numerous molecular changes that ‘interfere’ with cellular functions in order to prevent inflammation (according to ScienceDirect) .” Such a function could be likened to the way that enzymes in the lysosome break down foreign material, viruses, and bacteria. 

However, similar to lysosomes, the overpopulation or malfunctioning of interferons can have undesired consequences. Described by immunologist Eui-Cheol Shin as “a double-edged sword,” interferons may inadvertently worsen a patient’s deadly respiratory problems or lead to a dangerous disease called “children’s interferonopathies.”

Furthermore, several health organizations have warned against the use of interferons in treatments for the coronavirus. Citing “insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of” the protein, the NIH does not endorse the proposal being practiced outside of extensive clinical trials. With major powers in the public health domain forbidding interferon-based treatments, it appeared that in-depth studies were needed to make a case for the idea.

Luckily, Shin and his fellow scientists were prepared to do just that. Research teams in France and South Korea conducted blood tests and RNA sequencing, respectively. The results of both tests were, to put it bluntly, not very conclusive. In the former experiment, patients with advanced Covid symptoms were surprisingly discovered to have a rather low count of interferons; conversely, the findings of the latter study showed that the interferon count of patients affected by severe symptoms was actually quite high compared to patients with mild symptoms. 

At first, this clash in results suggested that determining the full effect of interferons in cells would be extremely difficult. However, a clinical trial conducted by Eleanor Fish (an immunologist at the University of Toronto) showed that “[interferons] helped clear viral infections almost seven days sooner on average than people given arbidol hydrochloride, a drug thought to block viral entry to cells.” This conclusion would be a huge win in the rapidly escalating fight against Covid-19. Despite the notion in sports that an interference is an unfair foul, the interferons might just be the interference needed to save countless lives.

New Research Uncovers Bat Super Immunity

Recent research has discovered a unique ability in bats to carry diseases but remain symptom free.  This ‘super immunity’, as it has been called by researchers, is currently a mystery to scientists but could one day provide methods for achieving super immunity in humans.

Bats are know to carry many diseases that are deadly to humans like the Ebola virus, Hendra virus, and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome).  For some reason, their immune system allows them to not get sick or show any signs of the disease.  Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences might allow us to better understand why this strange phenomenon occurs in bats.  These researchers looked deep into the immune system of bats, especially into the interferons.  An interferon is defined as “a protein released by animal cells, usually in response to the entry of a virus, that has the property of inhibiting virus replication.”  According to the research, bats only have three interferons, which is less than a quarter of the number of interferons possessed by humans.  “This is surprising given bats have this unique ability to control viral infections that are lethal in people and yet they can do this with a lower number of interferons” says Dr. Michelle Baker, an immunologist at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Researchers also found another notable difference in how bat immune systems work as a whole.  While most mammals only activate their immune systems when they are infected by something, bats seem to always have active immune systems. Having the immune system active at all times can be dangerous in most animals because it can be toxic to cells, but bats seem to be perfectly fine.

Myotis yumanensis (Yuma myotis)

Image Source: http://bit.ly/1T4Qn0r

While information on bat super immunity may be limited at the moment, future research could prevent outbreaks like the Ebola virus in West Africa.  Dr. Baker describes the potential of this research well by saying, “If we can redirect other species’ immune responses to behave in a similar manner to that of bats, then the high death rate associated with diseases, such as Ebola, could be a thing of the past.”

Article Source: http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2016/02/22/bat_super_immunity_could_help_protect_people.html

Further reading: http://mashable.com/2016/02/24/bat-super-immunity/#_6DA21uIkiqU

 

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