MFT Research finds cellular immunity to virus that causes COVID-19

Cellular (T-cell) immunity against SARS-CoV-2 – the virus which causes COVID-19 – is likely to be present within most adults for at least six months after infection, according to research carried out at MFT that 1,200 of our staff participated in.

The results of the Public Health England (PHE) ESCAPE-COVID study have been published as a pre-print, meaning the paper is awaiting peer review. The study is the first in the world to show that robust cellular immunity remains for this length of time after primary infection, in people who experienced either mild/moderate or asymptomatic COVID-19.

At our MFT, ESCAPE is led by Consultant Virologist and study Principal Investigator, Dr Shazaad Ahmad, who is a co-author of the results paper.

Dr Ahmad said: “As one of the leading NHS trusts for research and innovation, known for our strong track record of recruiting to studies, we were selected to rapidly enlist a cohort of healthcare workers to take part in this important research – and 1,200 MFT staff swiftly answered the call.

“The study was delivered at the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facilities (CRF) at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) and Wythenshawe Hospital, both part of MFT, which provide dedicated research space and highly-trained staff.

“I would like to say how grateful I am to my colleagues for continuing to deliver and participate in this study, as without them we would not be able to report these findings, which could have a huge global impact.”

Dr Alex Horsley and Dr Ben Parker, Medical Directors of Manchester CRF at Wythenshawe Hospital and the MRI respectively, are also co-authors of the research paper. Together with colleagues from PHE and the University of Birmingham, the research was carried out as part of the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC).

Dr Shazaad Ahmad

Dr Shazaad Ahmad

As part of the study UK-CIC researchers collected serum – an amber-coloured, protein-rich liquid which separates out when blood coagulates – and blood samples from a cohort of more than 2,000 clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers. This included 100 individuals who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in March/April 2020.

All 100 individuals experienced either mild/moderate symptoms, or were asymptomatic (56 versus 44 people) and none were hospitalised for COVID-19.

Serum samples were collected monthly to measure antibody levels and blood samples were taken after six months to assess the cellular (T-cell) response – which was present in all individuals at six months after infection.

At our Trust – which was the primary site for this research – monthly visits and samples were collected from 1,200 participants by Manchester CRF staff, many of whom also took part in the study as volunteers.

Following publication of the preliminary data, a key question is whether previous infection with SARS-CoV-2 results in immunity to reinfection, and if so, for how long.