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The inflammosome in a cell, signaled by fluorescence (Image: Maria Miquel / IBMB-CSIC).

A project led by IBMB-CSIC tests molecules that stop the cytokine storm caused by SARS-CoV-2

A team of researchers led by Timothy Thomson's group from the Barcelona Institute of Molecular Biology (IBMB-CSIC), based at the Barcelona Science Park, has developed a platform that allows to see in real-time if a drug inhibits the immune cellular response caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection. The project has the advantage that all the molecules being tested are previously known drugs and compounds that are used for other clinical indications. This would expedite the necessary procedures to propose, in due course, the use in patients with COVID-19.


Researchers from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) have created a cellular platform to rapidly detect drugs that can slow down the formation of a cellular structure, known as an inflammasome, as possibly responsible for the exacerbated reaction of the immune system in the face of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the consequent cytokine storm that it triggers in some seriously ill patients, especially among those over 65. The project is led by Timothy Thomson’s team, of the Institute of Molecular Biology of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC), with the participation of Pablo Gastaminza’s team, of the National Center for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC), both from the CSIC.

The platform allows see in real time the formation of the inflammasome in response to the infection and check if the drugs can inhibit it so that it does not end up attacking the body itself. All the molecules that are being tested are previously known drugs and compounds, and in case of confirming their efficacy could be quickly applied in trials with Covid-19 patients.

Timothy Thomson, has explained that “This hypothesis proposes that, if we inhibit the inflammasome induced by the infection of epithelial cells (eg, lung cells) by SARS-CoV-2, we will be able to prevent the activation of an important part of the cascade of inflammatory reactions, including cytokine storm, induced by the virus ”.

“We use our platform to identify drugs capable of preventing inflammasome formation and activation. Once identified, these drugs are tested in co-culture systems with macrophages, in order to show that they not only inhibit the formation of the inflammasome, but also the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines by macrophages “, Thomson adds. In addition to being able to directly visualize the pro-inflammatory cellular response to SARS-CoV-2 infection and its inhibition by drugs, the project has the advantage that all the molecules being tested are known drugs and compounds, that have passed toxicity tests, since they are used for other clinical indications. This would expedite the procedures necessary to propose, in due course, the use in patients with Covid-19.

► For further information: CSIC website [+]