An Indian-American scientist has discovered a strategy that could be used to ward off life-threatening inflammation, organ failure and lung damage in patients with a severe case of COVID-19.
Dr Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, an Indian-born researcher currently working at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee, USA, has identified the drugs that could be used to prevent serious damage to COVID-19 patients. She was able to indemnify these drugs after finding out that the hyperinflammatory immune response to COVID-19 results in tissue damage, organ failure in mice by activating cell death pathways. Dr Kanneganti's lab's research was published online in a journal known as Cell.
The researchers explained how the inflammatory cell death signalling pathway worked and how this led to the discovery of potential therapies in order to disrupt the process of cell death.
Dr Kannegant said that understanding and analysing the pathways and mechanisms driving this life-threatening inflammation is very important for developing effective treatment strategies..
Dr Kanneganti was born and raised in Telangana. She received her undergraduate degree at Kakatiya University in Warangal, where she majored in Chemistry, Zoology, and Botany. She then received her M.Sc. and Ph.D from Osmania University in India. She joined St. Jude, in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, in 2007.
"This research provides that understanding. We also identified the specific cytokines that activate inflammatory cell death pathways and have considerable potential for treatment of COVID-19 and other highly fatal diseases, including sepsis," she said.
Other researchers were Shraddha Tuladhar, Parimal Samir, Min Zheng, Balamurugan Sundaram, Balaji Banoth, RK Subbarao Malireddi, Patrick Schreiner, Geoffrey Neale, Peter Vogel and Richard Webby, of St. Jude; and Evan Peter Williams, Lillian Zalduondo and Colleen Beth Jonsson, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The infection has killed more than 1.2 million people in less than one year and sickened millions more.
The infection is marked by increased blood levels of multiple cytokines. These small proteins are secreted primarily by immune cells to ensure a rapid response to restrict the virus. Some cytokines also trigger inflammation.
The phrase cytokine storm has been used to describe the dramatically elevated cytokine levels in the blood and other immune changes that have also been observed in COVID-19, sepsis and inflammatory disorders such as hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), St Jude's said in a statement.
But the specific pathways that initiate the cytokine storm and the subsequent inflammation, lung damage and organ failure in COVID-19 and the other disorders were unclear.
The cellular and molecular mechanisms that comprehensively define cytokine storm was also lacking. Dr Kanneganti's team focused on a select set of most elevated cytokines in COVID-19 patients. The scientists showed that no single cytokine induced cell death in innate immune cells, it said.