New study finds that nasal cells protect against Covid-19 in children

18 Apr 2024, 9:20 a.m.

Human nasal cells cultured in a petri dish

New research shows that children are less likely than adults to develop severe COVID because cells in their nose are better at fighting off the virus.

The research, by UCL and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, found that there are significant differences in how the nasal cells of young and elderly people respond to COVID, which could explain why children typically experience milder symptoms.

Researchers grew nasal cells taken from the nose lining of healthy people from three different age groups: under 12, 30 to 50 year olds, and over 70's. They then infected these cells with COVID.

The cells taken from children were quick to defend against the virus however this protective effect became less pronounced with age. They also found that the nose cells from the over-70s showed more virus and more damage and shedding in the cells.

Children infected with COVID rarely progress to respiratory failure, but the risk of mortality in people over the age of 85 remains high, despite vaccination and improving treatment options.

The research underscores the importance of considering age as a critical factor in both research and treatment of infectious diseases.

Project lead, Dr Claire Smith (Associate Professor at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health), said:

“Our research sheds light on how age affects the ability of our nasal cells to combat SARS-CoV-2 infection. This could be crucial in developing age-tailored treatments and preventative strategies, especially for the elderly who at higher risk of severe disease.”

The research was carried out by UCL and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and funded by UK Research and Innovation, the NIHR Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre and the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation.

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