iReceptor Plus consortium seeks to understand the immune system taking part in the war against the Coronavirus


By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the world, researchers are making intensive efforts to fight the virus. The immune system is key in this global war.

Behind the phenomenal success of the human body in fighting against infectious diseases lies the immune system’s ability to specifically adapt to each pathogen and form long term memory. Antibodies are pivotal players in this process, binding to pathogens and mediating their elimination. Thus, the repertoire of antibodies carried by an individual represents their infection history.

The iReceptor Plus international consortium aims at integrating distributed repositories of antibody repertoire data so as to improve personalized medicine and immunotherapy for diseases with an immune component, including cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, allergy and infectious diseases.

While the city of Wuhan in China was the course of COVID-19, research coming out of China – where the virus seems to be receding now – could help in better understanding and battling the pathogen.

Two new Chinese studies have used immune profiling platform developed by 10X Genomics – one of the partners in the iReceptor Plus consortium – to examine the immune systems of COVID-19 patients at the level of single cells.

Liao et al. focused on the lung immune system, because responses in the lung to the virus are one of the primary killers of infected individuals. He showed that expanded T-cell clones were associated with mild cases of COVID-19

Huang et al. discovered specific antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19 disease, by examining AIRR-seq B-cell repertoires from blood of COVID-19 patients.

One of the main goals of the iReceptor Plus single cell analysis team and the AIRR Community is working with 10X Genomics to develop repositories for storing, comparing and sharing these cutting-edge data from the analysis of thousands of single B-cells and T-cells in health and disease.

A turnkey repository has been set up on the iReceptor Gateway in anticipation of helping to share AIRR-seq data from such COVID-19 studies.

In recent years, fueled by technological advances and new computational tools, the study of antibody repertoires has become possible. The antibodies that have been discovered can be used both for diagnosis – that is, for serological exams that detect the presence of a pathogen in an individual – as well as for therapy, such as with a passive vaccine or to deliver medications to specific locations in the body. 

Antibody repertoire studies have already made significant contributions in the research of diseases such as HIV infections, dengue fever, West Nile virus infections, hepatitis C virus infections and others.

In the current global fight against the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), several efforts involving immune repertoires are taking place. One example is the new collaboration between Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies. 

In this collaboration, Adaptive Biotechnologies plans to analyze blood samples from individuals diagnosed with or recovered from COVID-19 to discover immune signatures specific for the disease, using Microsoft‘s hyperscale machine learning capabilities and cloud platform. The data from this project will be open for public use.c