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KAIST identifies interferon as trigger to COVID-19 inflammations

Professor Shin Eui-cheol, researchers Lee Jeong-seok and Park Seong-wan (KAIST)
Professor Shin Eui-cheol, researchers Lee Jeong-seok and Park Seong-wan (KAIST)
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology said Monday its researchers have identified interferon as the cause of cytokine storm in severely affected COVID-19 patients.

Interferon is a type of cytokine that has been known to bring up antiviral defenses against infections. While they have been known as the good cytokines, the researchers at KAIST believe they may trigger adverse effects in COVID-19 patients.

This finding may provide grounds for new treatment approaches that target interferon, KAIST said.

A cytokine storm, or hyper-inflammatory response, occurs when too much of cytokine is released, and the body starts to attack its own tissues.

Cytokine storms are suspected of causing detrimental progression of COVID-19, but what causes this cytokine storms have been unclear, posing a hurdle in treating medium-grade COVID-19 patients.

In their latest research, the KAIST scientists separated the immune cells from a COVID-19 patients’ blood, and applied single-cell-RNA-sequencing method to analyze their characteristics.

Regardless of the degree of the SARS CoV-2 infection, the researchers repeatedly found tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-1 in patients’ immune cells.

In comparing light and medium-grade patients, the researchers could see that a cytokine response called interferon was especially pronounced in medium-grade patients

This study was published in Science Immunology on Friday under the title “Immunophenotyping of COVID-19 and influenza highlights the role of type I interferons in development of severe COVID-19.”

Lee Jeong-seok and Park Seong-wan from KAIST’s Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering, and Department of Biological Sciences, participated in the study as lead researchers.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)
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