T-cells from common colds can protect against coronavirus

T cells from common colds can protect against coronavirus infection, Covid-19, Imperial College London
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The latest study from Imperial College London (ICL) into Covod-19 suggests that common cold T-cells can protect against infection from coronavirus. In releasing the study, the college has said that “no one should rely on this alone” and that vaccination was still the best form of protection.

In the peer reviews study conducted by ICL, researchers found that those with T-cells from common colds are less likely to catch Covid-19.

The findings ICL believes could help provide a blueprint for future vaccines that might offer longer protection against current and future variants of the virus. Describing the findings as an important discovery, the researchers have urged people to get vaccinated and not to treat the information as a reason to believe they are immune.


T cells are a white blood cell that helps protect the body from infections generally.

Speaking about the findings Dr Rhia Kundu, one of the study’s authors, from Imperial’s National Heart & Lung Institute, said: “Being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t always result in infection, and we’ve been keen to understand why.

“We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection.

“While this is an important discovery, it is only one form of protection, and I would stress that no one should rely on this alone.

“Instead, the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to be fully vaccinated, including getting your booster dose.”

ICL began the study back in September 2020 prior to the high levels of infection across the UK. As a result they were able to work with uninfected people and those who had lived with someone who had the virus, but not catch it.

Research into T-cells from common colds

PCR tests were conducted at the outset of the research and then at regular intervals afterwards to see whether they had been infected. Blood samples were also taken within six days of those who were exposed to the virus to enable the researchers to analyse the levels of pre-existing T cells induced by previous common cold coronavirus infections that also cross-recognise proteins of COVID.

Researchers found that those who did not become infected had a higher level of cross-reactive T cells according to the paper that was published in Nature Communications. Included in the findings was that T cells target internal proteins within COVID, rather than the spike protein on the surface of the virus.

Current vaccines do not induce an immune response to these internal proteins.

Protection against infection from coronavirus

Professor Ajit Lalvani, senior author of the study and Director of the NIHR Respiratory Infections Health Protection Research Unit at ICL, said: “Our study provides the clearest evidence to date that T cells induced by common cold coronaviruses play a protective role against SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“These T cells provide protection by attacking proteins within the virus, rather than the spike protein on its surface.

“New vaccines that include these conserved, internal proteins would therefore induce broadly protective T cell responses that should protect against current and future SARS-CoV-2 variants.”

The study’s findings that T-cells from common colds can protect against infection from coronavirus will be useful to those determining public health strategy as it will to those developing vaccines.

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