For some people, COVID-19 can lead to severe disease and, in extreme cases, death. One of the ways the body deteriorates in severe COVID-19 is when the immune system reacts too strongly late in the infection, and this triggers a process called inflammation that causes damage in the lungs and other organs.

Professor Paul Moynagh at Maynooth University, has a long-standing interest in this kind of immune over-activation, and his SFI-funded research has focused on inflammatory diseases including sepsis, a critical condition where the immune system attacks blood vessels and other tissues around the body.

Professor Paul Moynagh, Maynooth University
“We have been looking at the biochemistry behind this kind of immune system over-stimulation, and we are finding ways in which the usual pathways that regulate this response change."

"One of the things we see in sepsis is that some proteins in the cell hang around for longer than usual, and this appears to be an important difference,” he explains.

Professor Moynagh, who is director of the Kathleen Lonsdale Institute for Human Health Research in Maynooth, is now applying his expertise in immunology to COVID-19. He and colleagues are looking at whether and how the cells of the immune system could develop a ‘memory’ of the COVID-19 virus beyond the immediate antibodies that the body produces.

“We really need to understand what the virus does to the immune system, both to develop more effective treatments for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19 and for longer-term planning of how to manage this virus and reduce the restrictions on travel and work.”