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Joint research team finds cause for ‘cytokine storm’
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.07.14 14:59
  • Updated 2020.07.14 14:59
  • comments 0

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology said Monday that a joint team of researchers have what causes the hyper-inflammatory response in severe Covid-19 patients.

The hyper-inflammatory response, often called the “cytokine storm,” is a symptom, in which the cytokine, an immune substance, is secreted excessively and attacks healthy cells. Cytokine storm is known to cause severe Covid-19. Still, the hyper-inflammatory response's specific cause had been unknown, resulting in difficulties in treating Covid-19 patients.

A joint research team of KAIST and university hospitals has found that interferon triggers severe COVID-19 symptoms. From left are KAIST Professor Shin Eui-cheol and researchers Lee Jeong-seok and Park Seong-wan. (KAIST)

The rapidly spreading Covid-19 virus has infected more than 13 million people worldwide and claimed more than 500,000 lives.

The joint research team, composed of Korea Advanced Institute of Science (KAIST) and Technology, Asan Medical Center, Severance Hospital, and Chungbuk National University Hospital, analyzed severe and mild Covid-19 patients' samples.

The result showed that tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin-1 (IL-1), which are inflammatory cytokines, were commonly observed in the immune cells of Covid-19 patients regardless of the degree of symptoms.

According to a comparative analysis of severe and mild patients, the cytokine response called interferon was peculiarly strong in severe Covid-19 patients. Interferon is a type of cytokine secreted when its host cell is infected by pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites, or with the presence of cancer cells.

Generally, interferon type 1 produced by infected cells helps surrounding cells to exhibit antiviral defense against infection.

The research team said that non-specific anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids could alleviate hyper-inflammatory response in patients with severe Covid-19. However, the study results could provide a new treatment that targets interferon.

"We launched the study urgently to solve the medical problems of Covid-19 patients. Thanks to the support from Asan Medical Center, Severance Hospital, and Chungbuk National University Hospital, we could finish the study in three months," KAIST researcher Lee Jeong-seok said.

KAIST will continue to study new immune mechanisms and personalized anti-inflammatory drugs to increase the survival rate of severe Covid-19 patients, he added.

Their study, “Immunophenotyping of COVID-19 and Influenza Highlights the Role of Type 1 Interferons in Development of Severe COVID-19,” was published on the July 10 edition of the journal, Science Immunology.


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