COVID-19 & Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases are caused by pathogens (“germs”) including viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites, and are ranked as the second leading cause of death worldwide by the World Health Organization. These infections can lead to temporary discomfort, serious tissue damage or even result in death.

BRI researchers, in partnership with Virginia Mason clinicians, are studying the impact of COVID-19 to understand the immune response to the deadly virus. They are aiming to learn what predicts whether someone will have a good versus poor outcome when infected and how that will inform treatments and vaccines.

The severity of an infection is in part dependent on the strength of a person’s immune system, since most people mount an immune response to the infection which kills or inactivates the pathogen. In this regard, the character of the immune response helps determine the consequences of a particular infection. And for some infections, an excessive immune response is actually bad, as it can cause symptoms such as high fever and inflammation, which have the potential to be more devastating than direct damage caused by a pathogen.

An additional important element of immune responses to pathogens is that the diagnosis of infectious disease with traditional culture methods is often quite slow, whereas new diagnostic methods that rely on interpreting the immune response can be much quicker, facilitating earlier appropriate treatment.

Research Advances 

BRI, a leading research institute focused on the study of human immune response, is engaged in discovering biomarkers to improve the diagnosis and management of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases that affect millions worldwide. Research at BRI focuses on infectious diseases:

Translational Research 

Working with blood samples from patients with infections, BRI researchers are using the Infectious Diseases & Vaccines Biorepository to understand the molecular signature of the early immune response to different infectious diseases in order to develop specific and rapid diagnostic tests that will allow earlier identification and treatment of these diseases as well as improvements to vaccines.

Laboratory Research 

Investigating the progression of the immune response to infectious diseases, BRI scientists hope to be able to learn how to control that response to minimize or eliminate the detrimental side-effects of excessive immune response to certain pathogens. To learn more about immune response, tetramer technology, a type of biomarker developed at BRI, is being used to examine cellular immune profiles of immune lymphocytes responding to an infectious pathogen.