JUL 22, 2020 12:00 AM PDT

Immunotherapy: the risk for cancer patients with COVID-19

Research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Virtual Meeting: COVID-19 and Cancer earlier this week reports that preliminary data suggest that immunotherapy doesn't necessarily worsen complications for patients with both COVID-19 and cancer. The research was presented by Layne Weatherford, Ph.D. 

."Many COVID-19 complications result from an overactive immune response, leading to an increased production of proteins called cytokines," Weatherford says. "Increased production of these proteins can cause issues like respiratory failure. Patients with cancer are more susceptible to COVID-19 infection as well as severe complications from it.

"Many patients with cancer are treated with immunotherapy, which activates the immune system against cancer to destroy it. In patients with both COVID-19 and cancer, our team thought that immunotherapy might increase the immune system response, which could already be overactive because of the COVID-19 infection."

This, in turn, could adversely affect patients’ health. Or at least that has been the concern that medical providers have had for their patients. Yet, while too early to tell for certain, the data looks like it may be telling another story. 

"We are continuing to investigate whether immunotherapy causes an increased production of these proteins by immune cells from COVID-19 patients, but our initial findings are showing that immunotherapy is not significantly impacting it," she adds.

Photo: Pixabay

Weatherford is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Trisha Wise-Draper, Ph.D., at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center. It is there that Weatherford and colleagues are examining blood samples from patients with cancer taken from the UC COVID-19 biorepository to see how immune checkpoint inhibitors are impacting COVID-19 immune cells. 

So far, the team has discovered that metformin, a common diabetes drug, has been effective in lowering the production of these proteins by immune cells of COVID-19 patients. "These are promising, initial findings," Wise-Draper comments. "Additional research is needed, but our results show that we might be able to treat COVID-19 complications with metformin or a similar drug one day."

Sources: Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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