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St. Jude scientists discover possible breakthrough COVID-19 treatment

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MEMPHIS, Tennessee (KWWL) -- Immunologists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee have determined the process behind life-threatening inflammation, lung damage and organ failure in patients with COVID-19, sepsis and other inflammatory disorders suggesting possible treatment using existing drugs.

"Understanding the pathways and mechanism driving this inflammation is critical to develop effective treatment strategies," Dr. Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, Vice Chair of the St. Jude Department of Immunology. "This research provides that understanding. We also identified the specific cytokines that activate inflammatory cell death pathways and have considerable potential for treatment of COVID-19 and other highly fatal diseases, including sepsis."

The team focused on cytokines, small proteins released in the body in response to the virus and inflammation. They concentrated on the most elevated cytokines in COVID-19 patients and found 1 duo out of 28 stood out. They found the drugs to treat these cytokine reactions already exist.

They found these cytokines were responsible for the deadly effects of COVID-19. Neutralizing antibodies against these cytokines are already used to treat inflammatory diseases. When tried on mice, the treatment protected them from dying from COVID-19 and from sepsis, a deadly blood infection.

"The findings link inflammatory cell death induced by TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma to COVID-19." Kanneganti said. "The results also suggest that therapies that target this cytokine combination are candidates for rapid clinical trials for treatment of not only COVID-19, but several other often fatal disorders associated with cytokine storm."

"We have solved a major piece of the cytokine storm (reactions) mystery by characterizing critical factors responsible for initiating this process, and thereby identifying a unique combination therapy using existing drugs that can be applied in the clinic to save lives," Kanneganti added.

The drugs will now be used in clinical trials on COVID-19 patients. If all goes well, FDA approval is the next step.

The research was peer-reviewed and appeared online in the journal Cell and can be found here.

Trevor Oates

Executive Producer

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