New finding may help stop lung damage in COVID-19

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One of the defining features of COVID-19 is the excessive immune response that can occur in severe cases.

This burst of immune overreaction also called a cytokine storm damages the lungs and can be fatal.

In a new study, researchers have developed specialized proteins, similar in structure to antibodies, that they believe could soak up these excess cytokines.

The idea is that they can be injected into the body and bind to the excessive cytokines as generated by the cytokine storm, removing the excessive cytokines and alleviating the symptoms from the infection.

The research was conducted by A team at MIT.

The researchers’ work on blocking cytokine storms grew out of a project to develop modified versions of membrane-embedded proteins.

These proteins are usually difficult to study because once they are extracted from the cell membrane, they only maintain their structure if they are suspended in special types of detergents.

Following the work, the team started designing water-soluble versions of proteins known as cytokine receptors.

These receptors are found on the surface of immune cells, where they bind to cytokines—signaling proteins that stimulate inflammation and other immune responses.

The team believed that proteins that mimic these cytokine receptors could help combat cytokine storms, which can be produced by viral or bacterial infections, including HIV and hepatitis.

They can also occur as a side effect of cancer immunotherapy.

The researchers also attached an antibody segment called the Fc region to their water-soluble receptor proteins.

This region helps to further stabilize the proteins in the bloodstream, and makes them less likely to be attacked by the immune system.

In March, when evidence began to suggest that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was inducing cytokine storms in some patients, the researchers realized that the receptor proteins they had designed might be able to help.

They decided to quickly publish the results they have generated so far, and they are now planning to do additional tests in human cells and in animal models of COVID-19 infection.

The researchers have filed for patents on the proteins that they designed, as well as on their overall approach to creating water-soluble cytokine receptors.

They hope to license the technology quickly and to collaborate with pharmaceutical and biotech companies who can help to move it toward clinical trials.

The researchers now hope to begin testing their proteins in human cells and in animal models of cytokine release and coronavirus infection.

One author of the study is Rui Qing, an MIT research scientist.

The study is published in QRB Discovery.

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