A team of Indian-origin immunologists in the United States announced the discovery of a potential strategy to prevent life-threatening inflammation, lung damage and organ failure in patients with COVID-19.
The researchers detailed in a paper published in the journal 'Cell' how the inflammatory cell death signalling pathway worked, which led to potential therapies to disrupt the process.
The scientists, led by Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, vice chair of Immunology at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, identified the drugs after discovering that the hyperinflammatory immune response associated with Covid-19 leads to tissue damage and multi-organ failure in mice by triggering inflammatory cell death pathways.
"Understanding the pathways and mechanism driving this inflammation is critical to develop effective treatment strategies," said Kanneganti who was born in Telangana and earned her undergraduate degree at Kakatiya University in Warangal.
"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 informed.
She worked with Bhesh Raj Sharma, Rajendra Karki and others at her lab for the research that helps increase understanding of the pathways and mechanism that drives COVID-19 inflammation so researchers can develop effective treatment strategies.
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.
Kanneganti's team focused on a select set of the most elevated cytokines in COVID-19 patients. The scientists showed that no single cytokine induced cell death in innate immune cells.
The investigators showed that blocking individual cell death pathways was ineffective in stopping cell death caused by TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma.
"The findings link inflammatory cell death induced by TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma to COVID-19," said Kanneganti.
"The results also suggest that therapies that target this cytokine combination are candidates for rapid clinical trials for treatment of not only Covid-19, but several other often fatal disorders associated with cytokine storm."