An Indian-American researcher, along with her research team from St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, U.S., has discovered a potential strategy to prevent life-threatening inflammation, lung damage and organ failure in patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
Published online in the journal Cell, the research work of Dr.Thirumala Devi Kanneganti, vice-chair of the St Jude Department of Immunology, identified the drugs after discovering that the hyperinflammatory immune response associated with COVID-19 leads to tissue damage and multi-organ failure in mice by triggering inflammatory cell death pathways. The researchers further detailed how the inflammatory cell death signaling pathway worked, which led to potential therapies to disrupt the process.
“Understanding such pathways and mechanism that drives inflammation is critical to developing effective treatment strategies, and this research provides that understanding. We have also identified the specific cytokines that activate the inflammatory cell death pathways and this could lead to a potential treatment for Covid-19 and other fatal diseases including sepsis,” saidDr. Devi Kanneganti in a statement.
Dr.Kanneganti was born and raised in Telangana. She received her undergraduate degree at Kakatiya University in Warangal, where she majored in Chemistry, Zoology, and Botany. She then pursued her M.Sc. and Ph.D. from Osmania University in India. In 2007, she joined St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., 2007.
The team focussed on cytokines, the proteins released by the body during inflammation. Among Covid-19 patients, as an immune response, the body goes on overdrive and produces a lot of such proteins leading to a ‘cytokine storm’. The research team identified two specific cytokines, TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma, that induced a form of cell inflammation and ultimately death, described by Kanneganti as PANoptosis.
“We were excited to connect these dots to understand how TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma trigger PANoptosis,” said co-first author RajendraKarki, a scientist in the Kanneganti laboratory. “Indeed, understanding how PANoptosis contributes to disease and mortality is critical for identifying therapies,” added co-first author Bhesh Raj Sharma from St. Jude.