MIT Scientists Design Water-Soluble, Modified Cytokine Receptors That Can Bind Cytokines; New Molecules May Prove Useful in Treating “Cytokine Storms” Associated with COVID-19 and Other Infections

One of the defining features of Covid-19 is the excessive immune response that can occur in severe cases. This burst of immune over-reaction, also called a cytokine storm, damages the lungs and can be fatal. A team of MIT researchers has developed specialized proteins, similar in structure to antibodies, that they believe could soak up these excess cytokines. “The idea is that they can be injected into the body and bind to the excessive cytokines as generated by the cytokine storm, removing the excessive cytokines and alleviating the symptoms from the infection,” says Rui Qing, PhD, an MIT research scientist who is one of the senior authors of the study. The researchers have reported their initial findings in Quarterly Review of Biophysics (QRB) Discovery, and they now hope to begin testing their proteins in human cells and in animal models of cytokine release and coronavirus infection. The article is titled “QTY Code-Designed Water-Soluble Fc-Fusion Cytokine Receptors Bind to Their Respective Ligands.” Shuguang Zhang, PhD, a principal research scientist in the MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory of Molecular Architecture, is also a senior author of the paper. Shilei Hao, PhD, a visiting scientist at MIT, is the lead author of the study, and David Jin, MD, PhD, CEO and President of Avalon GloboCare, is also an author. The researchers’ work on blocking cytokine storms grew out of a project that Dr. Zhang began ten years ago to develop modified versions of membrane-embedded proteins. These proteins are usually difficult to study because once they are extracted from the cell membrane, they only maintain their structure if they are suspended in special types of detergents.
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