More than 24 million people worldwide have been proven to have contracted the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, and more than 800,000 people have already died from the virus. What’s striking is that the virus is just a little bit deadlier for men. Of the people who have died from the virus, about 60 percent of them are men. For sometime, researchers couldn’t pinpoint the reason for this difference. But a new study now reveals that it has everything to do with the immune response. This can be read in the journal Nature.
The research suggests that women’s immune systems react slightly differently to COVID-19 than men’s. “And these differences may be at the root of the increased susceptibility to COVID-19 among men,” said researcher Akiko Iwasaki. “These data suggest that we need different strategies to ensure that treatments and vaccines are just as effective for both sexes.”
Iwasaki and his colleagues studied blood and saliva samples from covid-19 patients and they found important differences between the immune response of men and women in relation to the virus. For example, the immune system of infected men increased its production of inflammatory proteins – also called cytokines. Cytokines are part of the so-called innate immune system and are produced in response to the presence of pathogens – such as a virus – and causes inflammatory reactions that help the immune system to eliminate the pathogen. But in people who become seriously ill as a result of infection by SARS-CoV-2, doctors often see a so-called cytokine storm: in this case, too many cytokines are actually produced, causing considerable inflammatory reactions in the lungs, among others. The fact that men already produce more cytokines in principle makes such a more serious course of disease more plausible, the researchers argue.
In addition, the scientists found that women are better than men at triggering a robust immune response, which has a key role for the T cells. These are white blood cells that can recognize and eliminate the virus. “Our data reveal that women are better able to trigger a T-cell response, even if they are already a little older,” said Iwasaki.
The study – in which Iwasaki and colleagues followed the corona patients for a longer period of time – further indicates that men with a poor response of the T-cells actually show a more severe disease picture. They may therefore benefit from a treatment or vaccine that leads to a more robust response of the T-cells, the researchers say. Women, in turn, would benefit more from a treatment that slows down the production of cytokines at an early stage of infection. The research shows that a more serious course of disease in women can often be traced back to a greater production of these inflammatory proteins. “Scientists rushing to develop treatments and vaccines should consider developing different strategies for men and women so that everyone can reap the benefits,” the researchers say.
Marquis was born in Paris, France and emigrated to United States at the early age of 5. He gained a medical degree from the University of Michigan and has worked as a dermatologist for over 10 years. He covers a wide-range of health related subjects for the Scientific Origin.