about the episode
Why do some people experience few symptoms while others become seriously ill when infected with a virus like the flu or Covid-19?
To find out, doctoral student Laura van Eindhoven of the Eindhoven University of Technology looked at how individual cells behave when infected with a virus.
When a virus invades, only a small fraction of the infected cells, called first responders, let other cells in their environment know they are infected. To let uninfected cells and immune cells know that the body is under attack, these first responders produce specific signaling proteins. They are telling the other cells that something is wrong and that they should do the same.
It is not good to have too many of these proteins being produced. This increases the chance of someone developing an autoimmune disease. If too little is produced, the virus will not be properly cleaned. If production starts too late, overcompensation can be made with plenty of protein. So it looks pretty close.
It is suspected that the appearance of symptoms in a person has something to do with the production of this protein. This is what van Eindhoven started by looking at the immune cell by immune cell. Incorporating her discoveries about how these cells communicate into computer models, she saw that only 1 to 3 percent of cells are first responders. And they don’t suddenly do this job, their job is predetermined.
We hope that these important insights into the role of individual immune cells will lead to customized therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases in the future.
Read more about research here: How do cells communicate about infection with the virus?
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