A study by Maastricht and Amsterdam researchers has shown that the medicines appear to calm down the immune system, which is vital in some COVID-19 patients, whose immune cells have gotten out of control. It may also be the reason why a considerable number of patients are not recovering, but continue to struggle with fatigue, ‘brain mist’ and memory loss.
The immune cells (neutrophils) literally cast out a net to catch the virus, says internist-immunologist Pieter van Paassen. “That is normal, but in patients with a severe COVID-19 infection, this happens in a rather uncontrolled manner. And that subsequently leads to a cascade of damaging reactions
First of all, coagulation of the blood is activated, causing the characteristic blood clots that are found in seriously affected COVID-19 patients. Moreover, the ‘nets’ tear while trying to catch the virus, releasing extremely poisonous protein globules. They cause inflammation in the lungs but also in other organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart, and brain.
Van Paassen and his colleagues have tested a (still unregistered) medicine, initially meant for vasculitis (blood vessel inflammation), on fifteen COVID-19 patients. And it seems to work: the immune system calms down.
Research institute CARIM has also developed a medicine that neutralises the toxic protein globules. It has already been tested on animals and will be given to patients in the coming months. “But in all honesty,” says Van Paassen, “the idea is sound, but whether it works in practice, we will have to wait and see.”