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PD Dr. Thomas JacobsArbeitsgruppe Protozoen-ImmunologiePhone: +49 40 42818-850
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Dr. Eleonora SchönherrPresse- & ÖffentlichkeitsarbeitPhone: +49 40 42818-269
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Julia HäberleinPresse- & ÖffentlichkeitsarbeitPhone: +49 40 42818-264
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| 06.08.2020

Excessive immune response to COVID-19 and malaria

Inter-institutional Hamburg research team finds reasons for parallels

Altered immune cells are apparently partly responsible for the strong immune response in patients with severe COVID-19 and malaria. This is what researchers from the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf discovered recently. The results of their study were pre-published in Frontiers in Immunology.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a severe flu-like illness caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus. In some patients it can cause a strong immune response and critical complications. Severe cases of Plasmodium-falciparum-malaria are also associated with a strong immune response which is characterized by the massive activation of T cells. These white blood cells form part of the immune defence and present a multitude of specific receptors as a possible consequence of their overactivation.

Does something similar happen in severe cases of COVID-19? This question was posed by a team from the Collaborative Research Centre 841 at the University of Hamburg. Scientists from the First Medical Clinic of the UKE and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine examined the blood of patients suffering from both diseases. They compared those receptors which probably ensure the balance between T cell activation and inhibition in a healthy immune response.

By directly comparing the excessive immune responses of COVID-19 and malaria, the researchers found astonishing parallels: in patients with severe COVID-19 there was an increase in frequency of certain receptors on the T cells. These detailed investigations may help to better understand COVID-19 disease. Such findings may enable researches in the future to better assess how an excessive immune reaction can be medically treated.

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Frau Sophia Schulte und Marissa Herrmann vom Kooperationspartner UKE mit Schutzkleidung im Labor kurz bevor sie Patientenproben untersuchen.
Sophia Schulte and Marissa Herrmann from the cooperation partner UKE

Background Information

About the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine
The Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) is Germany’s largest institution for research, treatment and training in the field of tropical diseases and new emerging infections. The current scientific focus is on malaria, haemorrhagic fever viruses, immunology, epidemiology and clinical studies of tropical infections as well as on the mechanisms of the viral transmission by mosquitoes. For the handling of highly pathogenic viruses and infected insects, the Institute has laboratories of the highest biosafety level (BSL-4) and a BSL-3 insectary. The Institute has been appointed by the Federal Ministry of Health as the National Reference Center (NRC) for the detection of all tropical pathogens as well as by the WHO as Collaborating Center for arboviruses and haemorrhagic fever viruses. In collaboration with the Ghanaian Health Ministry and the University of Kumasi the Institute has been operating a modern research and training center in the West-African rain forest for over ten years, which is also available to external research groups.

Original publication

Herrmann, M. et al., Analysis of Co-Inhibitory Receptor Expression in COVID-19 Infection Compared to Acute Plasmodium Falciparum Malaria: LAG-3 and TIM-3 Correlate with T Cell Activation and Course of Disease. Front. Immunol. | doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.01870

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