【Economist】Immunology: Green shoots

新英文杂志 2020-09-17 09:14

中文导读

日前,一项研究显示冰岛超过90%的新冠康复者体内的抗体水平在上升后保持稳定水平,前后可维持四个月。而另一项英国研究表明,被感染者体内会产生大量T细胞,且不同感染程度的患者体内表达的T细胞种类不同,这将有助于未来疫苗的改进。这两项研究结果振奋人心,但疫苗是否有效还并非定论。

Evidence grows of a strong and lasting immune response to covid-19



THE BEST hope for ending the covid-19 pandemic is a vaccine. There is no shortage of candidates. The World Health Organisation is tracking 34 in various stages of development. How well they will work, though, is another matter. On September 9th AstraZeneca, a drug firm, announced it was pausing its trials after a participant fell ill. Such pauses are common in vaccine development, a discipline in which effort does not always bring reward. Despite much research, only an imperfect vaccine is available for dengue fever (it has limited efficacy and can cause nasty side-effects). In 1987 the first trial of an HIV vaccine began in Maryland. Three decades later, the cupboard remains bare.


The news about covid-19 in two new papers is more encouraging. The first, written by a team of scientists at deCODE genetics, an Icelandic company, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reports antibody levels in 1,200 Icelanders who had been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and recovered. More than 90% tested positive for antibodies twice—once immediately post-infection and again four months later. People who had suffered more serious disease, such as those who had been hospitalised, developed higher levels of antibodies. So did men and older people, both of whom are at greater risk of more severe illness.


The four-month lifespan is cheering for two reasons. Antibodies that hang around are more likely to offer immunity. That means a vaccine that provokes their production should provide reasonably long-lasting protection. They are also easier to find. That suggests that results from population-wide antibody screening programmes, which aim to chart the spread of the virus, should be fairly accurate.


In the second study, scientists led by Tao Dong, an immunologist at the Medical Research Council (MRC), in Britain, went hunting for T-cells. These get less press than antibodies, but play an equally vital role in battling infections and securing long-term protection. (Their importance is vividly demonstrated by HIV, which targets and kills them.)


As described in Nature Immunology, the researchers compared blood samples from 28 mild and 14 severely ill covid-19 patients, as well as 16 healthy donors. The paper describes a “robust” T-cell response in infected people and, as with the Icelandic work, different responses in those who developed mild and severe cases of the illness. Specifically, mild cases were characterised by more CD8+ cells, which kill infected cells directly, rather than CD4+ ones, which regulate the immune response more generally. The MRC study found T-cells that could recognise eight separate parts of the virus, including the spike protein that allows it to penetrate human cells. That target list could offer useful hints for refining vaccines in future.


Al Edwards, an immunologist turned biochemical engineer at the University of Reading (who was not involved with either paper), is cautiously optimistic. The immune response to the disease seems to be working roughly as expected, he says. If that continues, then vaccines developed to trigger long-lasting immunity should work—at least in theory.


In practice, it is still too early to celebrate. Dr Edwards warns that immunology has never been a predictive science. There is no test that can show definitively that a vaccine will work short of actually trying it in the real world.


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Sep 12th 2020 • Science and technology • 540 words




每日一学

2020/09/17

文章第一段最后一句话“Three decades later, the cupboard remains bare."中的 the cupboard remains bare 作何解释?

注意这里化用了 the cupboard is bare 这一习语,表示“未能出现想要的结果”,英文释义为 the desired resources are not available , 看一个例句:They are seeking more funds but the cupboard is bare. 他们正在寻求更多的资金,然而根本找不到。

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本文全文摘选自The Economist/《经济学人》(Sep 12th, 2020),仅供个人学习交流使用。欢迎转发至朋友圈。商业转载请在正文前注明“本文来自新英文杂志公众号”。

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