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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / March 2022 / UR CTSI-Supported Study: Immunity from Colds May Lead to Worse COVID Infection

UR CTSI-Supported Study: Immunity from Colds May Lead to Worse COVID Infection

A new study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and led by UR CTSI Co-Director Martin Zand, M.D., Ph.D., shows that pre-existing immunity to the common cold may have put people at risk of more severe COVID illness and death.

The study utilized the UR CTSI’s COVID Biobank to analyze antibodies in blood samples from COVID patients and found evidence that a phenomenon called immune imprinting, which Zand likens to ‘immune distraction,’ is at play in COVID immune responses. Immune imprinting occurs when pre-existing immunity to one threat (a seasonal coronavirus) hijacks the immune response to a new, but similar threat (SARS-CoV-2).

In this case, patients with more severe COVID infections initially mounted immune responses that targeted seasonal coronaviruses, but could not neutralize SARS-CoV-2. When non-neutralizing antibodies were produced faster than neutralizing antibodies, patients had worse disease and a higher chance of death.

“In people who were sicker – those who were in the ICU or died in the hospital, the immune system was responding robustly in a way that was less protective,” said Zand, who is also the senior associate dean of Clinical Research at URMC. “It took those patients longer for the immune system to make protective antibodies… unfortunately, it was too late for some.”

Get the full story in the URMC Newsroom.


This study was funded in part by the University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Award (UL1 TR002001) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

Michael Hazard | 3/3/2022

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