People with higher levels of T cells from common cold coronaviruses are less likely to become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the strain which causes COVID-19, according to a new UK study led by Indian-origin researchers on Monday.
The study, published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’ and led by Imperial College London researchers, claims to provide the first evidence of a protective role for T cells.
While previous studies have shown that T cells induced by other coronaviruses can recognise SARS-CoV-2, the new study examines how the presence of these T cells at the time of SARS-CoV-2 exposure influences infection.
The researchers believe their findings provide a blueprint for a second-generation, universal vaccine that could prevent infection from current and future SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Omicron.
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“Our study provides the clearest evidence to date that T cells induced by common cold coronaviruses play a protective role against SARS-CoV-2 infection.
These T cells provide protection by attacking proteins within the virus, rather than the spike protein on its surface,” said senior author Professor Ajit Lalvani, Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Respiratory Infections Health Protection Research Unit at Imperial College London.
“The spike protein is under intense immune pressure from vaccine-induced antibody, which drives evolution of vaccine escape mutants.