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Research: Coronavirus could attack immune system like HIV by targeting protective cells

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) based in Hong Kong reports the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could kill the immune cells that are supposed to kill the virus instead.

The discovery by researchers from Shanghai and New York coincided with doctors’ observations that COVID-19 could attack the human immune system and cause damage similar to that found in HIV patients.

SCMP’s Stephen Chen reports from Beijing that Lu Lu of Fudan University in Shanghai and Jang Shibo of the New York Blood Center joined the living virus, which is officially known as SARS-CoV-2, to laboratory-grown T lymphocyte cell lines.

“T lymphocytes, also known as T cells, play a central role in identifying and eliminating alien invaders in the body,” writes Chen.

“They do this by capturing a cell infected by a virus, boring a hole in its membrane and injecting toxic chemicals into the cell. These chemicals then kill both the virus and infected cell and tear them to pieces.

“To the surprise of the scientists, the T cell became a prey to the coronavirus in their experiment. They found a unique structure in the virus’ spike protein that apparently triggered the fusion of a viral envelope and cell membrane when they came into contact.

“The virus’s genes then entered the T cell and took it hostage, disabling its function of protecting humans.”

The researchers did the same experiment with SARS, another coronavirus, and found that the SARS virus did not have the ability to infect T cells.

Further investigations into the coronavirus infection on primary T cells would evoke “new ideas about pathogenic mechanisms and therapeutic interventions”, the researchers said in a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Cellular & Molecular Immunology this week.