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Senior Research Fellow at Duke-NUS Medical School, Dr.

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Anthony Tanoto Tan, discusses his work in the field of immunopathology as it relates to both hepatitis B and the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the COVID-19 situation.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • What role T cells play in the immune response to infectious diseases, and how they store “memory” of certain pathogens
  • How T cells differ from antibodies, in general and in the context of COVID-19
  • What it might mean that people who have never been exposed to the SARS-coV-2 virus have specific T cells for it

For the past 10 to 15 years, Dr. Tan has been trying to understand the immune system response to disease, and its role in clearing infectious diseases. With a special focus on hepatitis B, which causes an infection and can proceed to liver cancer, he ended up researching adaptive T-cell therapy for liver cancer.

With expertise in the analysis of virus-specific T cells, Dr. Tan and his team began researching the T cell response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus with the goal of determining whether there are differences in the immune response in people who are asymptomatic or have a mild case of the virus, and people who develop severe symptoms. They are also trying to understand how the T cell response changes over time, from the acute phase of the infection through to resolution of the infection.

Dr. Tan discusses the details of his recent publication on this research, which shows that people who were infected with SARS-CoV-1 17 years ago still have SARS-CoV-1-specific T cells. Not surprisingly, SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells were found in individuals who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2.

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Of particular interest is the finding that people who have NOT been exposed to either virus were shown to have SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells.

This suggests that a proportion of unexposed individuals have a preexisting immune response to the virus that’s causing COVID-19. Whether the function of this immune response is protective is the question that remains.

In addition to these topics, Dr.

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Tan talks about the processes in innate and adaptive immunity, how T cells behave during pathogenesis, what causes T cells to have a faster response to infected cells, which proteins to target with a vaccination, and much more.

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