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expert reaction to a study looking at sex differences in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2

A study, published in Nature, looked at a study looking at sex differences in the immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

 

Prof Eleanor Riley, Professor of Immunology and Infectious diseases, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Sex differences in immune responses are frequently observed and, although the underlying mechanisms are not always clear, these differences likely explain sex differences in the prevalence of many autoimmune and allergic diseases.  Sex differences in the response to SARS-CoV-2 are thus not unexpected and it is likely that these differences affect the course of disease at an individual level.

“This study can best be described as an exploratory analysis of potential sex differences in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2. The study is observational (limiting our ability to make any inference regarding cause and effect), the number of patients in some of the groups is low (making it difficult to draw any firm conclusions) and the underlying hypothesis is very broad (are there sex differences in immune parameters of COVID-19 patients?) A large number of parameters have been measured but relatively few of these are statistically significantly different between males and females. Of the differences that are seen, several are likely due to differences in age or BMI (the sex differences disappear once these other factors are taken into account) and others are likely to have arisen by chance. It is not clear whether the size of the differences between men and women is biologically (functionally) relevant.  Importantly, although the average response may differ between men and women, the range of most of the measurements in men and women overlap significantly, meaning that many women have responses that are indistinguishable from those of many men. This makes tailoring of therapy by sex very difficult and suggests that a more individual approach would be required. 

“Nevertheless, this study provides a useful basis for the design of future, experimental studies that may identify targets for immune intervention.”

 

 

‘Sex differences in immune responses that underlie COVID-19 disease outcomes’ by Takahashi et al. was be published in Nature on Wednesday 26th August.

DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2700-3

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Declared interests

Prof Eleanor Riley: “No conflicts of interest to declare.”

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