COVID-19 testing

Local Scientist Studies Immune Response in Latino COVID-19 Patients

More than 60% of positive COVID-19 patients in San Diego County are Hispanic or Latino. A La Jolla Institute scientist asks if an immune response is to blame

NBC Universal, Inc.

A scientist with the La Jolla Institute was granted $1.4 million to study Latino patients’ immune responses to COVID-19.

In addition to disparities including; access to healthcare, preexisting conditions and higher chances of exposure to the virus, LJI Research Assistant Professor Daniela Weiskopf, Ph.D., is trying to figure out if Latinos’ immune systems recognize the virus differently than White patients.

According to San Diego County data, Hispanic or Latino people make up 62% of positive cases across the region. The CDC released new information proving Latinos have been hospitalized at a rate more than four times of White COVID-19 patients. Weiskopf said she hopes her research helps improve treatment for people in this category.

Weiskopf said she is testing hundreds of volunteers in Puerto Rico and is working in partnership with doctors from the University of Puerto Rico. The scientists will analyze blood samples from the patients to study how their T cells respond to the virus. Originally, Weiskopf said she was studying patients’ responses to mosquito-borne viruses. When COVID-19 became more common, she said she switched gears to help better understand the virus and its effect on Hispanic patients.

“If we know more from this population then we can see if it’s universally applicable,” said Weiskopf. She said the findings may help improve the efficacy of vaccines.

“We want to have a universal vaccine that works for almost everybody so that will be the first question we answer. All the scientists are just working as hard they can and trying to get knowledge out as fast as we can,” Weiskopf said.

The study is funded for the next five years by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute.

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