Hematologists Play Vital Role in Advancing COVID-19 Research, Potential Treatments

Hematologists Play Vital Role in Advancing COVID-19 Research, Potential Treatments

There are now millions of cases worldwide of COVID-19 infection, caused by the new virus SARS-CoV-2. As cases continue to soar, researchers worldwide are working urgently to identify risk factors and possible treatments.

People with blood disorders and underlying immune deficiencies are at heightened risk of severe COVID-19 infection. Many chemotherapies, immunotherapies, and stem cell transplants used to treat these diseases further suppress the immune system. It has been established that COVID-19 infection can trigger clots and other hematologic complications in some individuals. The global hematology community continues to leverage specialized labs, knowledge, and treatments to help predict high-risk groups and improve treatment options. ASH has remained committed to sharing the latest COVID-19 resources to guide hematologists and all those on the front lines of COVID-19 patient care. Included among the resources is the ASH COVID-19 Research Agenda, which includes key questions that experts in hematology and blood research deem critical to researchers, physicians, and patients.

Three studies being presented today during the 62nd American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting and Exposition offer glimpses into the complexities of COVID-19 infection, who is at greatest risk of severe illness and complications, and a potential off-the-shelf T-cell-based treatment.

“Taken together, these studies show the multiple approaches that are being pursued to try to understand the risks to these patients and what role genetics may play, as well as applying our knowledge of how T cells work to help create therapies that enable stronger immune responses to COVID-19 infection,” said press briefing moderator Alisa Wolberg, Ph.D., of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Information to help us predict who will have a severe disease course versus who most likely won’t have huge implications for understanding the basic biology of this disease and to risk-stratify patients for treatments.”

The first of the three studies shed light on which individuals with blood cancers are most vulnerable to severe illness and death based on an ongoing global public reference tool from the ASH Research Collaborative offering real-time data summaries to help guide treatment approaches. A second study detected the presence of several harmful genetic variants in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 that may be associated with increased susceptibility to severe COVID-19 illness. In a third study, researchers built banks of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells obtained from people who recovered from the virus that is now being studied for potential curative effects in hospitalized patients.

“Our collective knowledge of this virus is rapidly evolving, and it’s critically important for us to uncover why some people have such serious illness and complications and others do not,” said Dr. Wolberg.