OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Our immune systems mount defenses against viruses and infections all the time. However, we run into problems with that response is too strong and lasts too long, causing fluid buildup and inflammation, especially in the lungs.
An overreactive immune system negatively affecting the lungs can be brought on by things like the flu or even COVID-19. But one scientist with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, or OMRF, is working on a study to prevent it, or if not caught, to treat it.
“One of the interesting things about the body’s immune response is that in a lot of cases, what ends up hurting the individual most is an overactive immune response,” said research assistant professor with the OMRF Christopher Schafer.
It’s something that was brought to light during the pandemic. COVID-19 would sometimes cause immune responses that were far too strong, in turn causing the illness to become much worse. Schafer said that overreaction can lead to something called “ARDS” or Acute Respiratory Distress syndrome.
“It is pretty clear that there are a lot of issues with the blood vessels and that they are responsible for a lot of the damage that happens in patients with ARDS,” Schafer said.
It’s research he started even before the pandemic by looking into illnesses like the flu and sepsis causing ARDS. His research now aims at treating or preventing the problem before it even starts by focusing on the blood vessels. He said they help the lungs respond to pathogens both in good and bad ways.
“If we can understand those pathways, maybe we can sort of promote the beneficial pathways and prevent the detrimental pathways,” he said.
Though there’s a long way to go, he said understanding this can lead to developing medication for the lung issues people across the world became familiar with during and after the pandemic.
“We’re sort of in the early stages on figuring out what it is that might be a useful therapeutic target in the future. But that’s exactly where we’d like to go in the future,” he said.
Schafer said the course of the research will likely last 5 to 10 years, but he added that they are off to a good start.