New Delhi: An Indian-American scientist has discovered a potential strategy to prevent life-threatening inflammation, lung damage and organ failure in patients diagnosed with Covid-19. Also Read - Centre Asks States, UTs to Take Steps to Reopen Medical Colleges From or Before Dec 1

According to a study, published in the journal Cell, Dr Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, an Indian-born researcher working at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, 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 studied how the inflammatory cell death signalling pathway worked, which led to the discovery of potential therapies to disrupt the process. Also Read - Coronavirus: Devotees Won’t be Allowed Holy Dip in Ganga River in Uttarakhand on Kartik Purnima

“Understanding the pathways and mechanism driving this inflammation is critical to develop effective treatment strategies,” said Kanneganti, vice chair of the St Jude Department of Immunology. “This research provides that understanding. We also identified the specific cytokines that activate inflammatory cell death pathways and have considerable potential for treatment of Covid-19 and other highly fatal diseases, including sepsis,” she added. Also Read - Public Dealing by Indian Embassy in Berlin To Remain Suspended Till Further Notice

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 received her M.Sc. and PhD from Osmania University in India. She joined St. Jude, in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, in 2007.

Apart from Kanneganti, other researchers involved in the study were Shraddha Tuladhar, Parimal Samir, Min Zheng, Balamurugan Sundaram, Balaji Banoth, R K Subbarao Malireddi, Patrick Schreiner, Geoffrey Neale, Peter Vogel and Richard Webby, of St. Jude; and Evan Peter Williams, Lillian Zalduondo and Colleen Beth Jonsson, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Covid-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The infection has killed more than 1.2 million people in less than one year. The infection is marked by increased blood levels of multiple cytokines. These small proteins are secreted primarily by immune cells to ensure a rapid response to restrict the virus. Some cytokines also trigger inflammation.

The phrase cytokine storm has been used to describe the dramatically elevated cytokine levels in the blood and other immune changes that have also been observed in Covid-19, sepsis and inflammatory disorders such as hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), St Jude’s said in a statement.

But the specific pathways that initiate the cytokine storm and the subsequent inflammation, lung damage and organ failure in Covid-19 and the other disorders were unclear. The cellular and molecular mechanisms that comprehensively define cytokine storm was also lacking. Kanneganti’s team focused on a select set of the most elevated cytokines in Covid-19 patients. The scientists showed that no single cytokine induced cell death in innate immune cells, it said. “The findings link inflammatory cell death induced by TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma to Covid-19,” Kanneganti said.

“The results also suggest that therapies that target this cytokine combination are candidates for rapid clinical trials for treatment of not only Covid-19, but several other often fatal disorders associated with cytokine storm,” she said. “We were excited to connect these dots to understand how TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma trigger PANoptosis,” said co-author Rajendra Karki.