PUCRS’ research investigates the effectiveness of therapies against coronavirus infection

Study with therapies that modulate the response of type I interferons is in initial phase, with preliminary results in vitro

06/08/2020 - 14h50

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Recent research has identified interferon protein (IFN) deficiency in the body as a possible cause of severe Covid-19. One of these investigations was published in the journal Science a couple of days ago. Researchers realized, from the analysis of 50 patients, that because the activity of the protein was depressed in these people, the body began to produce an exacerbated inflammation. In patients with medium and mild conditions, its levels were normal.  

One of the main investigations developed by PUCRS aims to test therapies that improve the type I interferon response during infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The project coordinatorSchool of Health and Life Sciences Professor, Dr. Ana Paula Duarte de Souza, explains that the type I interferon response is part of our innate immune system and is responsible for controlling viral infections.  

The University’s School of Health and Life Sciences and School of Medicine’s Centro Infant have recently found out that that acetate, a short-chain fatty acid produced by the intestinal microbiota, can protect against respiratory viral infections. Results have been published in the journal Nature. Acetate increases the type I interferon response and decreases lung inflammation. “Based on this, the research will test whether acetate has the same effects during infection with SARS-CoV-2,” she says.  

Souza also adds that there are several preclinical and clinical studies showing that bacterial extracts like OM-85 also protect against respiratory infections by modulating the type 1 interferon response. “In addition to acetate, we will also be testing the OM-85 against SARS-CoV-2”.  

The research is funded by the Rio Grande do Sul Research Support Foundation – Fapergs – , and collaborates with Unicamp. It is currently in the initial phase, with preliminary results in vitro.  

IFN proteins and the immune system  

Interferons (IFNs) are proteins that are naturally produced by the body and secreted by cells of the immune system in order to fight foreign elements, such as viruses, fungi or bacteria. They work by producing a local, intense and immediate response in the region where the pathogen is located. For this reason they are important in mitigating the progression of a disease. There are three types of natural IFNs, each secreted by its own set of cells. Both type I (IFN-alpha and IFN-beta) and type III (IFN-lambda) are antiviral proteins which recruit defense cells to act at the site of infection and fight the virus.