The National Science Centre announced a grant competition for research on COVID-19 at the end of March. Its aim was to select a study which will contribute to understanding the mechanism of action of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, as well as to improving diagnostic tests, seeking new drugs and alleviating the social effects of the pandemic. The competition was very short. Researchers had only two weeks for filing their applications, whose assessment lasted only one month. Despite such a short time limit, a large number of applications – 262 – were filed, for a total sum of PLN 140 million. Funds of over PLN 12 million were granted to 19 projects. Grants were awarded for 12 projects in life sciences, 4 – in social sciences and arts, 3 – in science and technology.
The approved applications include the research of the team led by Prof. Marcin Mycko, Head of Department of Neurology at Collegium Medicum of the UWM. It is basic, strictly medical research.
The main objective of the research is to discover the mechanism of the cytokine storm syndrome (CSS) as well as to develop and test the methods of therapeutic prevention or treatment of this condition. Cytokines are a very complex group of various proteins of the human immune system, which control its activities and participate in the body response to infections.
COVID-19 is caused by an infection with type 2 coronavirus of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2). Clinical symptoms of COVID-19 in most patients are mild or moderately severe, but severe pneumonia develops in approx. 20% of those infected. The most dangerous form of COVID-19 develops in approx. 3% of the patients, which includes simultaneous acute respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ dysfunction syndrome.
‘These symptoms make up the cytokine storm syndrome (CSS), which can even be fatal. It is a situation in which it is not the virus that kills the patient, but the body damages itself as a result of a response that is too violent and excessive. Such an overactivation of the immune system is particularly dangerous when an infected person has been ill with another disease’, explains Prof. Mycko.
Prof. Mycko's team will be investigating the mechanisms that cause these lethal responses and will look for a way of weakening them by pharmacological methods to prevent immune system fatalities.
The fact that Prof. Mycko's research team entered the NSC competition did not result from the need of the moment or a desire to take part in the research which is in the focus of the media attention worldwide. His team has been studying the mechanisms of multiple sclerosis development for several years and seeking methods to influence the immune system in combating this disease.
‘We have already discovered that although multiple sclerosis and COVID 19 are diseases of a completely different aetiology, the mechanism of cytokine storm development is partially similar. We will, therefore, make use of what we already know to find out about the mechanisms that control the development of CSS and to identify the main paths that can be used for therapeutic intervention during the "cytokine storm". We proposed to use a unique experimental model of inducing CSS. We believe that our cytokine storm model will contribute to accelerating the development of effective therapies in patients with COVID-19, as well as in other diseases that may lead to the cytokine storm syndrome’, adds Professor Mycko.
His team’s research is planned to last 18 months – until the end of 2021. The NSC granted PLN 1.08 million for it. It is the second-largest grant awarded in this competition.
The research team comprises: Prof. Marcin Mycko – manager, Prof. Krzysztof Selmaj, Magdalena Tinsley, M.Sc., Agnieszka Lewandowska, M.Sc. and Anna Żurawska, Ph.D.