In surgery, we have a saying, “the cure would be worse than the disease.” We say it when an operation would be overly aggressive, potentially causing side effects greater than the perceived benefits.
After this post, I will retreat back to the realm of cancer immunology and just continue to observe the natural history of this novel interaction between public health and research.
The scientific and medical community has been generating publications raising concerns of the infamous SARS-CoV-2 virus and autoimmunity, which is when the immune system can no longer distinguish self from other and starts to attack its own body. To understand the connection, you need to appreciate molecular mimicry, which is an interesting and unfortunately real concept. Some viruses, not all, have proteins that resemble those in our body, perhaps the nervous system, lungs, or blood vessels. When this unusual viral protein is found in our body, the immune system sometimes recognizes it as foreign, and in mounting an attack against it, innocent bystanders become casualties.
The coronavirus family is so named because of the crown-like appearance of its members. The protein responsible for this unique morphology is aptly named the spike protein. Unfortunately, the spike protein bears much resemblance to proteins in the human nervous system, lungs, and blood vessels, which may explain some of the life-threatening and/or long-term side effects of COVID-19 (the name of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus) AND of the vaccine.
If a coronavirus can lead to autoimmune disease, can the vaccine? The answer might depend on the amount of spike protein. Too little? maybe no protective immunity. Too much? maybe an overly robust and confused immune response. Maybe Goldilocks knows – maybe it needs to be “just right.”
Photo credit: coronavirus model in hand
To read the most recent publication on coronavirus and autoimmunity Click here.