Photo illustration by Adrien Converse

Does COVID19 target our immune system?

Last edition the 29 Apr 2020 18:22:38 - Review by Lina Fourneau , correction by Lina Fourneau , coordination by Nelly Pailleux

It's fake

In summury

Is our immune system targeted by the novel coronavirus? In the US, a widely spread tweet claims that SARS-CoV 2 infects T lymphocytes, which leads to immunosuppression.



On April 7, 2020 a Chinese study titled “SARS-CoV-2 infects T lymphocytes through its spike protein-mediated membrane fusion” tried to demonstrate this theory. It was published in the online journal Cellular and molecular immunology.


Two days later, the American immuno-engineer Dr. Jacob Glanville shared the study on his Twitter account: "Bad news. I was expressing my concern about the very low T-cell count of patients with COVID19. 19 This disease has many of the characteristics of immunosuppression.” T-lymphocytes are part of the white blood cells. They are essential to our immune system.  




But who is Doctor Jacob Glanville?

Some of you may have seen Dr Jacob Glanville in Netflix's documentary series Pandemic, where he describes his work on a vaccine that can be effective for all forms of influenza.


In 2012, Jacob Glanville founded his privately held company Distributed Bio specialising in drug technology aimed at a population of “difficult-to-medicate” patients. He obtained a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics and Immunology from the Stanford University in 2017.


In an appearance on Fox News last March 19, he promoted his company and claimed that he could find a cure for COVID-19 in three weeks by administering antibodies. His intentions may be heartwarming, but he has an economic interest in this study. 




Tweet from Leonardo Ferreira

On April 9th, Leonardo Ferreira, an American molecular immunologist, alerts on Twitter: “The experiment does not use T cells but cells from lineages. Moreover, it has been poorly analysed”.


To tell apart truth from falsity, Check My News took stock with Professor Guy Gorochov, a doctor in immunology and immunopathology at the Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris and team leader at the Centre for Immunology and Infectious Diseases. We also contacted Doctor Nicolas Noel, university lecturer, hospital practitionist (MCU-PH) in Internal Medicine and Immunology at CHU Bicêtre/University Paris Saclay. 


The experiment was carried out on guinea pig cells


The lineage cells used in the experiment are cells cloned in the laboratory for testing purposes. They are neither T cells nor human cells. Just some kind of guinea pig cell. 


The study was carried out "in vitro", i.e. outside the natural context of the organism. This phenomenon of SARS CoV-2 infection of T cells was provoked and is not representative of the normal of the human body. For this reason, a series of further experiments are required to corroborate or not a laboratory study conducted on lineage cells. A phenomenon must be observed more than once in real conditions; this is the principle of science.


So far, no studies have shown any evidence of T-cell infection in the bodies of patients with Covid-19.


An illegible graph


This graph is intended to show the SARS CoV 2 infection of T cells but no rigorous interpretation can be made out of it. Infected cells cannot be distinguished from uninfected cells. Only a cluster of cells (small dots) is visible, all of which look alike. The conclusion of this manipulation: either every cell is infected or nothing is infected. 


Graph

Ce graphique de l'étude intitulée « Le SARS-CoV-2 infecte les lymphocytes T (…) », est censé représenter les cellules testées positives au SARS-CoV-2. (Publié le 7 avril 2020 dans le journal en ligne « Cellular and molecular immunology ») 



There is no immunosuppression 




Underneath Dr. Jacob Glanville's comment, "_COVID19 attacks the immune system"_, Internet users quickly make the connection with AIDS. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) directly targets cells of the immune system. This makes it a terrible killer disease. 

Yet, as the conclusion of the study indicates, SARS-CoV-2 does not cause apoptosis, death, of T cells after being in forced contact with it. Contrary to what Dr. Jacob Glanville claims and the title of the study itself, there is no immunosuppression of T cells. 



But then why are T-cell levels so low in some patients?


In its normal functioning, our immune system induces a drop in the T-cell count. Alerted by the presence of a virus, our body activates certain white blood cells. These white blood cells fight the virus and then die. More white blood cells are generated afterwards, but this is why the body remains fragile for a while after the illness. This phenomenon is the same for all viral diseases. It is not a specificity linked to COVID-19. 


“Cytokine storms", inflammatory reactions caused by COVID19 also cause a loss of white blood cells. In this case, our immune system’s recognition mechanism panics and activates the excess white blood cells. This triggers an inflammatory reaction in the body and can lead to death for a COVID-19 patient. The SARS CoV 2 virus does not attack the immune system. However, the immune system does not work properly against the virus. There are many ongoing studies researching this.


As it is in Nature, people will believe it”, says one Internet user. 
Nature is a leading scientific journal. It belongs to the "Nature.com" group. It holds many scientific journals, including "cellular and molecular immunology". Their site is hosted by nature.com but it is another journal. The Chinese study was published by Cellular and Molecular Immunology and not by Nature. 


Finally, a study takes at least 3 to 6 weeks to be accepted. A peer review committee reviews it. Then send it back for minor or major corrections, or reject it. 


The study was received on March 21th 2020 and validated on March 24th 2020. Contacted by Journalistes Solidaires, the journal Cellular and molecular immunology ensures to investigate this three-day delay and keep us informed.



[Edit : 28/04] : However, in the meantime we discovered, in that same journal, another study published in less then one day https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7091858/. These two studies have one co-author in common: Zhigang Tian.  Guess what? Zhigang Tian is also editor in chief of “Cellular and Molecular Immunology”.  Checkmy.news is now investigating that review process. 


About the investigation

The informations above explain to you our investigations methodology.

Informations

Vérifiée et fausse

First time seen
08 Apr 2020
Last update
28 Apr 2020
First spotted on

Non renseigné

Log

We checked out Jacob Glanville's claim. We verified the study in question.  We have interviewed various immunologists/immunologists.  We wrote to the "nature.com" group to get more information about the timing of the validation of this study and they said they would get back to us with more information soon.  We discovered that one of the co-author is also the editor in chief of the journal. We discovered that the same co-author , also editor in chief, was also in charge of a study published in one day.

Tracks and conclusions

The information, which is currently not widely shared in France, has been widely shared in the United States. It was relayed by a certain Dr Jacob Glanville (see tweet).

This study conducted by Chinese researchers has been validated. But apparently it was misanalysed according to a renowned molecular immunologist, Leonardo Ferreira. 

It was not published by "nature.com" but by "Cellular & Molecular immunology" which belongs to the "nature.com" group but does not receive the same credit. This explains why their site address is hosted on nature.com. 

Moreover, its stake was to demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 has similarities with AIDS. However, the researchers were unable to prove that infection of the cells of the immune system caused apoptosis (death of the cell) because this was not the case. This is the case with the AIDS virus.

We discovered that one of the co-author is also the editor in chief of the journal. We discovered that the same co-author , also editor in chief, was also in charge of a study published in one day.

Checkmy.News team

Eleonore Truchat

Check my . News

Check my news is a spin-off of the Belgian-French "Journalistes Solidaires" (United Journalists), a collaborative, friendly and efficient fact-checking collective gathering journalists, experts and citizens. We re-created the same structure in English to enable ourselves to better fight the COVID-19 misinformation hurricane hitting the world. Thanks to a core of professionals and students, we could self-organise and bring an open fact-checking platform for all to take part in and monitor.

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