Immunological memory of SARS-CoV-2 infection
The current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, poses enormous challenges to our society. With our project we aim to better understand COVID-19 and establish whether the infection leads to immunological memory conferring long-term protection against reinfection.
Several coronaviruses have been shown to cause disease in humans. Seasonal coronaviruses typically produce mild upper respiratory tract infections, whereas SARS-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome CoV (MERS-CoV) can lead to severe respiratory disease. SARS-CoV-2 infection manifests itself in various forms, ranging from asymptomatic to severe disease. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 causes an immune response, which is important for viral clearance but can contribute to organ damage in severe COVID-19. However, the extent to which immunological memory is formed is still unclear.
In a cohort of 150 COVID-19 patients and 40 healthy individuals, we aim to investigate the antibody and cellular immune response against SARS-CoV-2 during primary infection. We will use cutting-edge technologies allowing the analysis of extremely rare immune cells that specifically recognise virus-infected cells. Furthermore, we will follow-up on these patients after 6 and 12 months and investigate whether virus-specific immune cells can still be detected.
Expected results and envisaged products
This project will allow us to characterise the response of virus-specific immune cells in COVID-19 patients during acute infection. Based on the differences between mild and severe COVID-19 patients, we aim to understand how the immune response might contribute to disease severity.
Furthermore, studies on seasonal coronaviruses indicate that an infection does not lead to protection against reinfection, whereas SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV infections lead to long-term memory formation. It is crucial to understand whether recovered COVID-19 patients are protected from reinfection. Extensive follow-up data of our cohort will allow us to determine immunological memory and correlates of protection.
Specific contribution to tackle the current pandemic
A better understanding of the immune response against SARS-CoV-2 will allow for a tailored use of immunomodulatory therapies, which have been investigated with some success in clinical trials in COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, knowledge on long-term protection following exposure to SARS-CoV-2 will be crucial in informing efforts on vaccine development and political decision making in the current pandemic.
Correlates of protective immunity to SARS-Coronavirus 2