Understanding immune profiling and immunophenotyping
Understanding the immune response to a virus is an important area of research that helps to explain how a virus interacts with the immune system, and why a virus may result in a wide range of symptoms and outcomes between individuals – from asymptomatic to mild and severe.
What is immune profiling?
Everyone experiences different types of immune response when they are exposed to a virus. Analysing immune health at a cellular or serological (blood fluid) level is known as immune profiling and can help identify a person’s specific response to a virus and potentially predict health outcomes.
Immune profiling helps us to understand why one person may differ from another in their immune response to a virus, looking specifically at the immune markers (proteins) and cells present over time. This analysis may help determine the likelihood of disease, individual response to a virus and the impact of vaccinations.
What is immunophenotyping?
Immunophenotyping is a laboratory test that explores immune response at a detailed, cellular level. The process ‘tags’ or identifies immune cells by detecting markers on their surface or within them. Immunophenotyping can identify different types and proportions of immune cells or molecules produced by the body in response to infection, illness or vaccination.
Ultimately, this may help to achieve a high level of protection against disease across populations to prevent transmission, hospitalisation, and severe illness.
What are the potential benefits of immune profiling and immunophenotyping for managing COVID-19?
Evaluating immunophenotypes associated with different disease severities and understanding why people respond to infection in different ways may help to treat and prevent illness from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
It may be possible to identify groups or subsets of people characterised by their immune profile and adapt treatment to what is specifically required for a positive health outcome. If we know which people are likely to have a particular response to a prevention or treatment strategy, clinical care could become more targeted. It would be helpful to know, for example, who is at risk of a poor outcome if subjected to viral infection, to offer improved protection and early interventions.
Immune profiling may also help to inform vaccination strategies and guide future vaccine development. This could involve gaining greater understanding of how the virus interacts with the body, as well as how the immune system responds when a vaccine is given, and then tailoring how vaccines are adapted to maintain their effectiveness.