TSU expert on coronavirus and innate immunity programming

The issue of public health is more acute than ever. Any disease is based on improper functioning of the immune system. The TSU Laboratory of Translational Cellular and Molecular Biomedicine is studying the connection between immune system disruptions and the development of cardio- and oncopathologies. The laboratory’s leader is a visiting scientist, head of the Department of Innate Immunity and Immunological Tolerance at the University of Heidelberg (Germany), Julia Kzhyshkovska.

- Julia Georgievna, you are not only a specialist in immunology, but you are also a virologist. What research do you think is needed in connection with the pandemic that the whole world is now fighting?

- Indeed, a pandemic is a challenge for everyone, and we have no right to stand aside. I would like to first touch on three health problems that weaken humanity.

First of all, attention should be paid to metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Now the metabolism of all people is in great danger due to improper nutrition, wrong both in composition, quantity, and distribution throughout the day. People don't live in a healthy biorhythm. Many parameters are violated that affect metabolism, which, in turn, determines the functioning of the hormonal system, immune system, and nervous system. The immune system suffers at an early stage when it is not yet clear what disease will develop. People think that they are simply overweight, in fact, they have already formed a wrong program in immunity. It is hidden at the level of postgenomic programming called epigenetics.

This program can be hidden both in mature immune cells of tissues and in their precursors, up to the bone marrow. Our task is to figure out what degree of improper metabolism there is and how quickly it is remembered by the immune system, how long the pathological program is stored, and by what methods we can change this memory, this wrong program.

That is, the primary factor that leads to program errors is metabolism. The second factor is stress. It is of two types. One is healthy, which our ancestors experienced. The man went hunting, killed the mammoth, and rested for two days after that. As the adrenaline rises, healthy stress killed all tumor cells in his body and diffused energy. But if a person is in constant stress, not reaching the threshold level and without the onset of relaxation, then the immune system does not know what is good and what is bad and deviates from normal functioning. At some point, this deep chronic illness is fixed at the level of epigenetic programming.

The task that I see before myself for the next 10 years is to understand the mechanism of the formation of a wrong program in innate immunity and find ways to manage this program.

Now let's move on to viruses. It is precisely the problems that have been fixed in people with chronic diseases at the level of innate immunity programming that now lead to the fact that certain categories of people are unable to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus and die from complications.

The coronavirus has once again shown us the weaknesses of humanity that need to be studied and treated. This virus has become a test system for the entire human population. It has showed where we have "weak" links in immunity, where the wrong programs are.

- Yulia Georgievna, there are forecasts that sometime after this pandemic, a new one may soon overtake people. How realistic is it and how can humanity be safeguarded?

- I must say that SARS-CoV-2 is not the most severe virus because many people are successfully fighting it. However, for certain categories, it is fatal. The virus showed us that a large percentage of the population has serious immunity disorders, both congenital and acquired, which were hidden before the infection. Our challenge is to figure out how we can restore a healthy innate immunity program without waiting for the next wave of the virus, because the coronavirus comes in waves. This is not the first wave. Coronavirus was first isolated from a patient with acute respiratory infection in 1965, the last waves of coronavirus infections were in 2002-2003 and in 2012-2013. Previous isolates did not lead to such a large-scale epidemic, although the mortality rate was much higher. It cannot be ruled out that there is a systematic deterioration in the programming of innate immunity in the human population.

The coronavirus has its own characteristics. For example, in the influenza virus, the RNA is fragmented, there are several small pieces in it. When a new viral particle forms in the flu, there is a high combinatorics, so it mutates every year. SARS-CoV-2 has a long RNA, it is one molecule, and if any mutations that are fundamental for the virus occur, the virus loses its ability to replicate. Therefore, the rate of mutation is low, but the isolate that still survives and infects can be much more dangerous.

- That is, we should prepare for a new wave, which could be more dangerous?

- Yes, given the cyclical nature of the coronavirus, this wave will come in 8-10 years, and we have to prepare for it. After all, every time the coronavirus appears in a new version, and we still cannot even imagine what kind of terrible option awaits us in the foreseeable future. We know that the species that are circulating now kill diabetics and people with heart disease. Who will the next option choose? More and more people with depression and weakened immunity?

We need to manage to deal with issues such as disturbed metabolism and chronic unhealthy stress. Find those tools that will help correct the wrong immunity programs.

As a prophylactic measure, we need to begin to form a healthy innate immunity from early childhood. This is a parallel task that needs to be addressed. And here the pressure of the factors of pathological influence continues to grow. At the state level, it is necessary to prohibit the widespread advertising of sweets. The benefits and taxes that now come from the sale of sweets will not be able to compensate for the costs of insurance companies when these children start to get sick and die from the next coronavirus. If we do not now take care of the five- or seven-year-olds, then in the future we will go broke on the sick, there will be no one to pay taxes.

Therefore, the prevention of metabolic and nervous diseases and the development of methods for programming innate immunity are tasks of national security that need to be addressed without delay.