FNUSA-ICRC laboratories test cellular immunity against COVID-19

Scientists in the laboratories of the Center for Cell and Tissue Engineering Facility of the International Clinical Research Center of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno (FNUSA-ICRC) was the first and so far the only workplace in the Czech Republic to successfully test and introduce a method of testing acquired cellular immunity against COVID-19. The method is key to obtaining data on this disease from the point of view of cellular immunity, about which very little is known so far. In addition, it can help with treatment.

To test the acquired cellular immunity against COVID-19, scientists use so-called peptivators. These are derived from proteins that the virus carries in its structure. “After contacting the peptivator with the cells of a patient who has encountered the virus, more specifically with a subset of T-lymphocytes, these lymphocytes are able to produce IFNγ. IFNγ in the body can induce the killing of virus-infected cells, and enhance the immune system’s response. Such lymphocytes can be considered as memory and persist in the body for a long time, much longer than antibodies,” describes doc. RNDr. Irena Koutná, Ph.D., Head of the FNUSA-ICRC Center for Cell and Tissue Engineering Facility. “Isolation of these specific lymphocytes from the blood of a patient who has had the disease and their transplantation is generally considered a very promising treatment for COVID-19.”

The rapid and reliable establishment of this method at the FNUSA-ICRC was possible by the fact that the centre’s laboratories already have an established testing methodology for other viruses (CMV and EBV, which can cause severe mononucleosis, for example). “Our laboratories focus, among other things, on the production of such activated T-lymphocytes for the treatment of infections in transplant patients in whom antivirals against CMV and EBV do not work. So far, a patient who has not responded to antiviral treatment has not been treated and 99 % have died. Drugs to suppress the immune response make it impossible to activate the body’s own immune system due to transplantation. Treatment is already available in the world and in our country for a number of infections, but only in a special regimen. We would like to use this principle in the future for the treatment of patients with COVID-19. It would be a direct transplantation of memory cells of a donor who has already had the disease and effective treatment without the side effects of antivirals,“ said doc. Irena Koutná and added: “Now, researchers will try to obtain as many blood samples as possible from treated patients so that they can find out as accurately as possible how cellular immunity behaves depending on the course of the disease, and they will share new knowledge with the world scientific community. They will also find out what is the percentage of memory cells that could potentially be transplanted. Without this knowledge, it is not possible to move on to the development of the drug itself.”