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Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic researchers receive grant to study immune system response to COVID-19

The research funded by the National Cancer Institute will dig deeper into understanding antibody response to the COVID-19 virus

CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from a story published on November 16, 2020. 

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic just received grant money from the National Cancer Institute to help medical experts understand how humans' immune systems respond to COVID-19.

The grants, awarded to Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine total $2.6 million and are just two of 13 granted nationally. That money will help fund two separate projects.

"This funding from the National Cancer Institute allows us to pivot existing knowledge and resources to accelerate our understanding of COVID-19 infections to optimize our protections and response to this clinically devastating infection," said Stan Gerson, MD, interim dean of the School of medicine, in a press release.

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Once a person is exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, their immune system is working to fight it off. A team of CWRU investigators says there is a "major gap" in understanding antibody resistance to the virus. Doctors and researchers have been unable to fully understand the body's response to the virus, and why certain people show symptoms, while other people do not. 

This team's research will look at household contacts of clinical COVID-19 cases, and analyzing immune responses. “By characterizing the early immune response prior to onset of symptoms we hope to identify features that will predict symptomatic versus asymptomatic cases, disease severity and long-term immunity,” said Christopher King, MD, who is helping to coordinate the team’s effort.

Another team will look at how pre-existing conditions like heart disease affect immune responses to the virus that causes COVID-19, and how COVID-19 may affect organs like the heart. 

“We are trying to understand the intrinsic mechanisms that explain why some develop life-threatening disease whereas others are minimally affected,” said Zidar. “We hope to develop strategies to identify and prevent severe illness from developing in those with COVID.”