Hyderabad: A Telugu-American researcher, along with her research team from St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, US, might have understood the mechanism of how Covid-19 kills people and also how to stop the virus from causing such deaths.
The research work of Dr. Thirumala Devi Kanneganti, vice-chair of St Jude Immunology, was published in the peer-reviewed prestigious journal Cell on November 18. She did her Master’s and Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Osmania University.
A majority of Covid-19 fatalities happen due to inflammation, which causes swelling of the lungs, making it impossible to breathe. In their research, immunologists from St Jude, headed by Devi Kanneganti, said they “discovered a potential strategy to prevent this life-threatening inflammation, lung damage and organ failure among Covid-19 patients”.
In a statement on the research, St Jude said “scientists identified drugs after discovering in mice that the hyper-inflammatory immune response associated with Covid-19 leads to tissue damage and multi-organ failure by triggering inflammatory cell death pathways. The researchers detailed how the inflammatory cell death signaling pathway worked, which led to potential therapies to disrupt the process”.
“Understanding such pathways and mechanism that drives inflammation is critical to developing effective treatment strategies, and this research provides that understanding. We have also identified the specific cytokines that activate the inflammatory cell death pathways and this could lead to a potential treatment for Covid-19 and other fatal diseases including sepsis,” Dr. Devi Kanneganti, who did her UG in Zoology, Botany and Chemistry at Kakatiya University, Warangal, said.
The team focussed on cytokines, the proteins released by the body during inflammation. Among Covid-19 patients, as an immune response, the body goes on overdrive and produces a lot of such proteins leading to a ‘cytokine storm’. The research team identified two specific cytokines that cause inflammation and ultimately, death.
“The immunologists tried 28 cytokine combinations and found that one duo, working together, induced a form of inflammatory cell death previously described by Kanneganti as PANoptosis,” St Jude said.
There are already existing drugs meant to treat cytokine storms. On trying such drugs on mice, the researchers found that the medication protected mice from Covid death and even from sepsis. The conclusion from the study opens up possibilities of new drugs that can directly be developed for treating Covid-19 treatment, after receiving required regulatory clearance.