Study reveals immune cells’ COVID memory

Image: Study co-authors Professor Heidi Drummer and Burnet Research Assistant Irene Boo

Burnet Institute is a collaborator on new research providing significant insights into the immune response in Australians who have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The study, published in pre-print on the health sciences server medRxiv, found that while antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 diminished over time, the body’s immune cells remain ready to respond to subsequent encounters with the virus.

The researchers discovered specific cells within the immune system known as a ‘memory B’ cells, which continue to recognise the coronavirus after initial antibodies disappear.

Co-author, Professor Heidi Drummer, said the study is important in examining the development of natural immunity to SARS-CoV-2.

“The study examined samples collected over a period of months from people infected with SARS-CoV-2 and examined the presence of antibodies in their blood and immune cells that recognise the viral proteins,” Professor Drummer, Burnet Program Director, Disease Elimination, said.

“The study found that whilst antibodies gradually disappear over time, the immune cells persisted and indeed increased over time suggesting that our immune system ‘remembers’ SARS-CoV-2 and is armed to respond if we re-encounter the virus and indicates that reinfection may be less likely to occur.”

Professor Drummer said it’s not yet known if the same phenomenon happens when people are vaccinated, and this would need to be determined by further studies.

Led by Monash University, this study is a collaboration with Burnet Institute and Alfred Health.


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