How effective are Killer T cells against COVID-19?

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Killer T cells

An artificial intelligence-based platform allows researchers to uncover the secrets behind adaptive immunity and killer T cells.

Researchers from CellChorus (CA, USA) recently published results from a study, which uses time-lapse imaging microscopy in nanowell girds (TIMING) to distinguish the behavior of cytotoxic T cells and assess cell-mediated response to COVID-19 infection. This study helped to explain the variance in symptom response to COVID-19.

When we hear about fighting COVID-19 with vaccines the next word that tends to come to mind is antibody response. Current vaccines generate neutralizing antibodies which give protection to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This response is typically well characterized as it is easy to study antibody molecules in vitro. However, as the antibody-mediated response tends to wane, some believe that greater protection from evolving variants will come via the design of a vaccine that targets the cell-mediated immune response.

The cell-mediated immune response is governed by cells called cytotoxic T cells or Killer T cells and has the ability to fight against viral infections such as COVID-19. It challenging to investigate this interaction as Killer T cells have a complex array of functions. Mapping these functions means studying spatiotemporal changes in cellular behavior across thousands of cells. Until now this has not been possible.


Peek behind the paper: Cytotoxic T lymphocytes targeting a conserved SARS-CoV-2 spike epitope are efficient serial killers

Daniel Meyer, is CEO of CellChorus gives an insight into his recently published paper looking at T cell-mediated cytotoxicity with specificity for SARS-CoV-2 eliminating targets.


To overcome the problem of mapping killer T cell function, the team has created TIMING an Artificial Intelligence integrated microscopy platform, which can image and profile thousands of cells and cell-cell interactions simultaneously. Lead author, David Mayer, commented on the technology saying it “leverages advances in cell biology, advanced microscopy and artificial intelligence to produce a unique approach to improving patient care”.

Meyer explains, “[here], we demonstrate for the first time that T cells targeting a conserved region of the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2 are serial killers. This observation can help explain why the vast majority of people only experience mild symptoms with SARS-CoV-2 and can help the design of T-cell based vaccines.”

The new technique offers the ability to monitor thousands of individual T cells as they move in their environment. In this case, the group was able to distinguish the behavior of T cells; before, during and after synapse formation; including, motility, morphology, cytokine secretion, time to form synapse, duration of synapse and time from synapse formation.

The group hopes a better understanding of the cell-mediated immune response gives more options in response to COVID-19 and any future viruses that may arise. They also hope the TIMING platform will be used across the life sciences for time-lapse microscopy profiling, particularly with large data sets.

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