Mind and Body

How T-cells fight viruses like the coronavirus

It's not just antibodies

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The concept of “antibodies” has become more familiar these days as the world tries to fight the SARS-cov-2 virus that has caused the covid-19 pandemic.

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Antibodies are an important line of defense against the virus — they bind to the surfaces of invading viruses and deactivate them.

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Antibodies also act as a beacon, signaling other immune responders towards the virus.

Antibodies can also remain in the body and recognize the same pathogen if it ever tries to invade again.

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But antibodies aren’t the only thing working to destroy invading viruses. Your body also deploys T-cells, a kind of white blood cell, to fight viruses.

Two crucial types of T-cells are Helper T-cells and Killer T-cells.

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Killer T-cells can sniff out and destroy cells that have been invaded by a virus. This is possible because when a virus invades a cell, it leaves behind a chemical tag called an “antigen” that’s unique to the virus.

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Helper T-cells, meanwhile, send chemical signals that help activate the body’s immune responses, like antibody generation and Killer T-cell attacks.

The ways each branch of the immune system reacts to an invading virus can dictate types of treatment, including vaccines.

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To fight the covid-19 pandemic, some groups are working on a vaccine that would invoke a strong T-cell response by injecting genetic material from the coronavirus into a person’s body.

The coronavirus's genetic material would be delivered by the vaccine inside of another, non-pathogenic virus.

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Every day scientists understand more about the disease and our immune system's response to the virus. And that will help them develop a successful vaccine.

Read more health stories here.

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