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Coronavirus survivors could be protected against future illness, study suggests

OHSU immunology researchers contribute to nonhuman primate research published in Science
hand holding a testtube of red liquid with a microscope in background
Initial findings from a primate model study indicate that if a person is infected and recovers from SARS-CoV-2, they will likely not get COVID-19 again. (Getty Images)

New research indicates becoming sick with the novel coronavirus once could prevent future COVID-19 illness.

The study, led by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston with contributions from Oregon Health & Science University, was published May 20 in the journal Science.

The research team found neutralizing antibodies, or proteins used by the immune system to fight off infection, in all nine rhesus macaques infected by the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. After the same monkeys were exposed to the virus again about a month later, only four showed low levels of the virus the next day, while none had detectable levels of the virus shortly after that. None developed the disease.

Because rhesus macaques often are used to model human infections, the finding suggests humans who become ill with the novel coronavirus may also develop protective immunity after their initial infection. Further research is needed in both nonhuman primates and humans, however.

“This study provides hope that if an individual becomes infected with SARS-CoV-2 and recovers, it is likely they will not get COVID-19 again,” said study co-author Jacob Estes, Ph.D., a professor at the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute and the pathobiology and immunology division chief at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU.

In addition to Estes, OHSU scientists who contributed to the study include Michael Nekorchuk, Ph.D., Kathleen Busman-Sahay, Ph.D., and Margaret Terry, B.S.

OHSU’s involvement in the study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grant OD025002).

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