“It’s not just that these patients have an autoimmune-like immune response,” he said. “The fact is that these immune responses are coupled with actually testable clinical auto-reactivities.”
Some of the autoantibodies identified by the researchers are linked to blood flow problems, noted Ann Marshak-Rothstein, an immunologist and lupus expert at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester.
“It is very likely that some of the clotting problems that occur in Covid-19 patients are caused by these types of immune complexes,” she said.
If the autoantibodies are found to be long-lived, they could lead to persistent, even lifelong problems for Covid-19 survivors.
“You never really cure lupus – they have flares and they get better and they have flares again,” she said. “And that may have something to do with autoantibody storage.”
Dr. Marshak-Rothstein, Dr. Iwasaki and dozens of other teams are closely examining the immune response to the coronavirus. With the ease of testing for autoantibodies, it may soon become clear whether the antibodies were only identified because the researchers were looking for them or whether they represent a more permanent change in the immune system.
“I don’t see what all of this means at this point,” said Dr. Pepper. “It will take a little time to understand if this will lead to downstream pathology.”
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