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Blood samples map immune system recovery from Covid-19


Melbourne researchers aim to roll out sampling programme nationally to assist in fight against coronavirus

University of Melbourne medical scientists have used a series of blood samples from a Covid-19 patient to map the immune system’s ability to fight the virus and recover from infection.

Researchers at the Peter Doherty institute for infection and immunity tested blood samples taken at four different time points from a patient admitted to a Melbourne hospital with mild-to-moderate symptoms of infection.

A report on how the patient’s immune system responded to the virus has been published online in Nature Medicine.

Oanh Nguyen, an immunology research fellow and co-author of the report, said it was the first time that immune system responses to the Covid-19 virus had been reported in detail.

“We looked at the whole breadth of the immune response in this patient using the knowledge we have built over many years of looking at immune responses in patients hospitalised with influenza,” she said.

“Three days after the patient was admitted, we saw large populations of several immune cells, which are often a tell-tale sign of recovery during seasonal influenza infection, so we predicted that the patient would recover in three days, which is what happened.”

The Doherty institute is a collaborative venture between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital. It has enabled the university’s research team to access a biological sampling programme led by the hospital—called Sentinel Travellers and Research Preparedness for Emerging Infectious Disease (SETREP-ID).

The programme is led by Irani Thevarajan, an infectious disease researcher at the hospital. It allows scientists to take a broad range of biological samples from people returning to Australia in the event of an infectious disease outbreak.

“When Covid-19 emerged, we already had ethics and protocols in place so we could rapidly start looking at the virus and immune system in great detail,” she said.

“Already established at a number of Melbourne hospitals, we now plan to roll out SETREP-ID as a national study.”

Estimates show that more than 80 per cent of Covid-19 cases are mild-to-moderate infections, Thevarajan said.

“We hope to now expand our work nationally and internationally to understand why some people die from Covid-19 and build further knowledge to assist in the rapid response of Covid-19 and future emerging viruses.”