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Scientists say our immune system might be developing changing antibodies to fight the COVID-19 variants

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Posted: Sunday, April 4, 2021. 7:04 pm CST.

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: Coronavirus variants have been causing a lot of fear in people. They are said to be more infectious than the original COVID-19 and people worry that the vaccinations might not be up to the task. Studies have shown that many of the vaccines are effective against the new variants, but there is still fear because these tests take a long time to produce results. But new developments give renewed hope that while vaccines may stand up against the new variants, our own body might also be adapting to fight these variants once we have antibodies, either because we’ve had the coronavirus or because we’ve been vaccinated.

According to popular science magazine, Scientific American, new studies done on “the blood of COVID survivors and people who have been vaccinated, immunologists are learning that some of our immune system cells—which remember past infections and react to them—might have their own abilities to change, countering mutations in the virus.”

Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at the Rockefeller University, who is working on this new development said that “Essentially, the immune system is trying to get ahead of the virus.”

Immunologists like Nussenzweig believe that apart from the original cells that confronted the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the body also has a secondary army of antibodies ready to defend it. These reserve cell reportedly can mutate and produce antibodies which would be able to recognize new variants of the disease.

After an infection, the memory B cells remain in the body’s lymph nodes, and if a person gets reinfected these cells activate and produce antibodies to fight the virus so that the infection is not serious.

Scientific American said, “the Rockefeller scientists cloned the reserve B cells and tested their antibodies against a version of SARS-CoV-2 designed to look like one of the new variants.” The studies showed that “the antibodies had changed over time to recognize different viral features.”

They conducted another test on six-month-old B cell clones against other engineered mutated viruses and last month, the researchers said some antibodies produced by these cells “showed increased abilities to recognize and block these highly mutated variants.”

They also found out that some memory B cells that are not as good at fighting viruses at a given time are kept by the immune system as a backup as they appear to have the ability to adapt.

According to Scientific American, Immunologist Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology said: “Memory B cells are your immune system’s attempt to make variants of its own as a countermeasure for potential viral variants in the future.”

In a study published in Science in February, Crotty and his colleagues said five to eight months after being infected with COVID-19, patients had varying degrees of immune reactions to the virus.

How effective can these reserve antibodies be is the question that scientists are trying to answer right now.

Scientific American said Laura Walker, an immunologist at Adagio Therapeutics in Waltham, Mass., recently published a study in Science Immunology showing that five months after an infection, the body’s neutralizing ability was very low. However, Walker found previously infected persons had “a sustained memory B cell population.”

Walker cloned several memory B cells testing their antibodies against variants but found out that while many of these variants were able to evade the antibodies, 30 percent of the antibodies were able to stick on to them. The conclusion was that while the body could suffer from a new infection, that it could have enough antibodies, even if not produced rapidly enough, to ward off the virus from attacking the body severely.

“The question is whether there will be enough, and we don’t know that yet,” Walker said. “I would expect that your antibody titers, even if low, should still prevent the worst of it, like hospitalization or death.”

Scientific American said scientists say that our body has another line of defense. These are T cells; cells that do not go after pathogens directly, but a subclass of them seek out infected cells and destroy them.

Since T cells, according to immunologists, “respond to fragments from various parts of the virus, unlike the highly spike-specific nature of B cells—and this makes them less likely to be fooled by variant shape-shifting.”

According to Scientific American, another study published in March by Crotty and Alessandro Sette at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology tested T cells from people who had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. “In a scenario where the infection is not prevented, you could have a T cell response that could modulate the severity of the infection,” Sette said.

“We have the ability to study and describe the immune system in a way we have never been able to do before. It’s an amazing window into the human immune response,” Nussenzweig said.

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