Yale study: Men and women may need different coronavirus treatment

Yale University in New Haven in 2020.

NEW HAVEN — The immune systems of women respond differently to coronavirus infections than men, according to a recent study by Yale.

That means “possible biological explanations for why men are more likely than women to suffer severe cases of COVID-19 and die of the disease,” according to the researchers.

Across the world, men account for approximately 60 percent of deaths from coronavirus, according to the Yale researchers.

“We now have clear data suggesting that the immune landscape in COVID-19 patients is considerably different between the sexes and that these differences may underlie heightened disease susceptibility in men,” Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunobiology and molecular, cellular and development biology, said in a release. “Collectively, these data suggest we need different strategies to ensure that treatments and vaccines are equally effective for both women and men.”

According to the release, a team of researchers led by Iwasaki tracked and compared patients over time “to observe how initial immune responses differ in patients who recover from the disease and those who progress to worse stages of the disease.”

Men and women demonstrated “key differences in the immune response during the early phases of infection,” officials said.

Men had higher levels of several types of inflammatory proteins called cytokines, which typically are deployed by the body as a “first general counterattack to invading pathogens, in which immune cells are called to the site of an infection, creating inflammation of the affected tissue as a physical barrier against the invading pathogen to promote healing,” the researchers said in the release.

“However, in severe cases of COVID-19, an excessive buildup of cytokines, referred to as a ‘cytokine storm,’ causes fluid to build up in the lungs, depriving the body of oxygen and potentially leading to shock, tissue damage, and multiple organ failure. The earlier higher concentrations of cytokines in men make these outcomes more likely,” according to the researchers.

Women, on the other hand, “had more robust activation than men of T-cells, white blood cells of the adaptive immune system that can recognize individual invading viruses and eliminate them.”

“Observations of patients over time revealed that poor T-cell responses in men led to worsening of the disease. When female patients had highly elevated innate cytokine levels, they too did worse,” the researchers said in the release. “In addition, older men — but not older women — were observed to have significantly worse T-cell responses than younger patients.”

Based on their findings, the researchers “suggest exploring therapeutic interventions and vaccine strategies that elevate T-cell immune response to the virus in male patients and that dampen innate immune activation during early stages of the disease in female patients.”

“These findings answer questions about COVID-19 that point the way toward a more effective, targeted response to this disease,” said Women’s Health Research at Yale Director Carolyn M. Mazure in the release. “As Dr. Iwasaki and her colleagues conclude, researchers racing to develop treatments and vaccines should consider separate strategies for women and men so that everyone can benefit.”

Connecticut Media Group