A landmark study led by Imperial College London researchers has found that people who have recovered from the common cold are more likely to avoid being infected with the Chinese coronavirus.
People with a higher level of T-cells developed through contracting the common cold, a type of coronavirus, are less likely to fall ill from the SARS-CoV-2 Wuhan virus, a study published in Nature Communications has claimed.
The study, published on Monday, was led by researchers at Imperial College London, who said that while previous reviews found that T-cells triggered by other coronaviruses could recognise COVID-19, it is the first such study that demonstrated their ability to ward off infection.
The lead author of the study, Dr Rhia Kundu of Imperial’s National Heart & Lung Institute said: “Being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t always result in infection, and we’ve been keen to understand why. We found that high levels of pre-existing T-cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection.
“While this is an important discovery, it is only one form of protection, and I would stress that no one should rely on this alone. Instead, the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to be fully vaccinated, including getting your booster dose.”
To examine why some people appeared to have immunity to the Chinese coronavirus, researchers at Imperial began monitoring several hundred households in London in September of 2020, a time in which the majority of the population had yet to be infected with the virus or receive a vaccine.
During the study period, 52 people were recorded as having shared a living space with someone who became infected with the virus. The researchers found that the 26 people who did not become infected had significantly higher T-cell levels compared to the 26 who were stricken ill with the virus.
The findings of the study may explain why children have been more resistant to the Chinese coronavirus, as they are more likely to catch colds throughout the year in comparison to elderly people, who are less likely to come in contact with colds.
"Being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t always result in infection, and we’ve been keen to understand why"
— Imperial College (@imperialcollege) January 10, 2022
The researchers went on to say that the findings provide a “blueprint” to develop more effective “universal” vaccines against the coronavirus and its subsequent variants, such as omicron.
The study found that using such T-cells as the foundation for a vaccine could possibly be more effective than the current generation of vaccines, as the current crop focus on the spike protein, which sits on the outside of the cell, making it more prone to mutate within variants of the virus.
A T-cell-based jab, on the other hand, could be able to target core proteins within the Chinese coronavirus, it was claimed.
Prof Ajit Lalvani, senior author of the study and director of the NIHR Respiratory Infections Health Protection Research Unit at Imperial told The Telegraph: “We’ve finally reached the Holy Grail which shows that those who were exposed but didn’t get infected had these types of T-cells. These are people who would have picked up a cold, one, two, three years before and their immune cells were in a memory state.
“Coronaviruses are a wide tribe, and these common cold viruses are quite far apart, yet even the T-cells targeting these distant relatives can cross-protect, so imagine if you took one of the core proteins of Sars-Cov-2 and put in a vaccine. The T-cells would cross-recognise variants which opens the door to a universal vaccine that will protect you against all current and future mutant strains as they arise.
“Such a vaccine would not need to be given as frequently because the memory T-cells last longer than the antibodies. We’re in this awful position where we need boosters every three months, but with T-cells, you could cut it down to every year or two years.”
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