“It was fortuitous that the cytokine that came out of patient plasma was the exact cytokine that I study in C. diff,” she said. “We were switching from studying a bacteria in the gut to a virus in the lung, but we didn’t have to learn a whole new set of information.”
Six months later, Donlan, along with Petri, research professors Mayuresh Abhyankar and Barb Mann and researcher Mary Young, has learned that high levels of IL-13 are associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes, including an allergic immune response, called a Type 2 immune response.
Donlan is now working on possible immunotherapies that could manipulate IL-13 and other Type 2 cytokines to block the production of IL-13, and, she hopes, prevent that deadly immune response. The interventions have been successful in mice, suggesting that they have promise for humans as well.
Petri, Abhynakar and others are also working on vaccine possibilities, and particularly on ways to ensure that a COVID-19 vaccine promotes long-lasting immunity.