COVID-19: the immune system can fight back

Professor Katherine Kedzierska leads research at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity that discovers how the human body overcomes coronavirus.

Melbourne researchers have mapped immune responses from one of Australia’s first novel coronavirus (COVID-19) patients, showing the body’s ability to fight the virus and recover from the infection.

Lead researcher Professor Kedzierska (Microbiology and Immunology) said the antibodies released by the human immune system to overcome coronavirus are very similar to those it uses to combat influenza — despite it never having being exposed to the disease.

Researchers at the Doherty Institute were able to test blood samples at four different time points in an otherwise healthy woman in her 40s, who presented with COVID-19 and had mild-to-moderate symptoms requiring hospital admission.

Published today in Nature Medicine is a detailed report of how the patient’s immune system responded to the virus.

Professor Kedzierska, a world-leading influenza immunology researcher, and the team were able to dissect the immune response leading to successful recovery from COVID-19, which might be the secret to finding an effective vaccine.

“We showed that even though COVID-19 is caused by a new virus, in an otherwise healthy person, a robust immune response across different cell types was associated with clinical recovery, similar to what we see in influenza,” Professor Kedzierska said.

“This is an incredible step forward in understanding what drives recovery of COVID-19. People can use our methods to understand the immune responses in larger COVID-19 cohorts, and also understand what’s lacking in those who have fatal outcomes.”

Read more in today’s Herald Sun newspaper.