MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Doctors have a new tool to fight COVID-19. This week, the FDA approved emergency use of a drug that helps to stop inflammatory deadly lung damage to help treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
Immunologists at St. Jude recently had a breakthrough discovery also connected to the same thing.
Often, COVID patients don't die from the virus itself, but from severe inflammation, lung damage, or organ failure.
"It's so sad to see so many people dying," said Dr. Thirumala- Devi Kanneganti, St. Jude scientist.
Dr. Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti is hopeful what her team discovered in a lab at St. Jude will help keep COVID patients alive.
"COVID-19 is such a crisis and there are no targeted therapies right now," said Dr. Kanneganti.
Kanneganti said inflammation from the virus is often caused by what are called cytokines. When cytokine levels in the blood rise too high, inflammation escalates and it can spiral out of control. It's called a cytokine storm - essentially your immune system goes into overdrive.
Dr. Kanneganti said St. Jude researchers were able to identify two specific cytokine proteins causing the inflammation, and by using drugs already on the market for other illnesses, they were able to block the inflammation.
It's a breakthrough the researcher said can be used immediately, if the government allows emergency authorization for those drugs to be used on COVID-19 patients.
"I'm very excited about this possible COVID 19 treatment," said Dr. Kanneganti.
Researchers said this discovery will not only help treat COVID-19 patients - it may also benefit people with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
"Anytime there is inflammation caused by cytokines we can block, these are actually the culprits," said Kanneganti
But for now, Kanneganti said the immediate and most urgent application is for COVID-19 patients and trying to keep them alive.
"We can save lives so many lives."