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Infectious Diseases

Researchers Review Ageing and Viral Infection to Better Understand COVID-19

Posted on 4 June 2020

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We have known since the very beginning of the pandemic that the severity of COVID-19 is heavily dependant on age. While the prevalence of chronic conditions amongst the elderly certainly contributes to this increased risk, scientists are also interested in the role of the ageing immune system.

The immune system’s ability to fight viral infections declines with age, but here researchers suggest that dysregulated inflammation might play a more important role in COVID-19 mortality, based on research looking at other viruses and ageing.

A team led by Daniel Goldstein, M.D. already studies aging and the influenza viral infection, and took this spring away from their lab to figure out if any of their other research, and other research they regularly read, could be helpful in the fight against COVID-19.

“Influenza is of course a different pathogen, but it may give some catalyst for research with the current SARS-CoV2 infection,” says Goldstein, of the Michigan Medicine Frankel Cardiovascular Center. Goldstein, with Judy Chen, a doctoral student, and William Kelley, a postdoctoral research fellow, published a new review in the Journal of Immunology.

“We believe some of the phenomena that we’re seeing with the current pandemic are similar to what we’ve seen in our research with aging,” Goldstein says. “There seems to be a higher mortality because of dysregulated inflammation more than impaired viral control.”

Additionally, increasing activation of neutrophils is reported in the current COVID-19 pandemic, which the authors have reported in their flu models. And how aging affects the immune system prior to infection is the same, and also potentially applicable in understanding the population afflicted by COVID-19, the authors say.

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The scientific review in question can be found here.

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