The Science of Phenomune
Our immune systems protect each of us from diseases and infections by responding to viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. Our overall immune system consists of two main components: our innate immune system and our adaptive immune system.
Innate Immune System
The innate immune system is our first line of defense against infection. It is comprised of various physical, chemical, and cellular defenses against pathogens. The innate immune system responds generically, so is not tailored to specific pathogenic attacks. Instead, the innate immune system is triggered by any particle or substance (virus, bacteria, fungi, parasites, pollen, dust, etc.) that it recognizes as foreign – meaning, not a part of, or made by your body naturally – and therefore potentially harmful. The main objective of the innate immune system is to try to repel foreign particles, and to immediately prevent spread and movement throughout the body.
Adaptive Immune System
Also known as acquired immunity, the adaptive immune system learns over time as it encounters new pathogens. Adaptive immunity serves as our second line of defense against infection, joining the fight when the innate immune system becomes overwhelmed. The adaptive immune response is pathogen specific, and is better able to fight infections with special lymphocytes (antibodies) created to handle each unique intruder. Specifically, the adaptive immune system drives clonal expansion – the rapid increase of T and B lymphocytes, from only a few cells, to millions. While the innate immune response is immediate, the cloning of antibodies can take days. That said, the adaptive immune response is generally long lasting and is sustained long-term by memory T cells. This specific memory of a particular pathogen is the basis of vaccination.
Our Research and the link to COVID-19
“Like the rest of the world, we had interest in why certain people contracted the virus and others didn’t despite seemingly high exposure to it. We studied hospital workers with known increased exposure to SARS-CoV-2. The questions we set out to answer were who can get it and how severe would their symptoms be.” – Dr. Henry Barham, Phenomune’s Chief Medical and Science Officer
While Phenomune’s mission is to help improve your overall immunity through education, our current focus is on a specific type of innate immunity that resides in your sinuses and nasal cavity. Strong sinonasal innate immunity is crucial in the fight against upper respiratory tract infections including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
One important component of sinonasal innate immunity is the presence of T2R bitter taste receptors (BTRs) backed by T2R genes. The BTRs contribute in three important ways:
- They produce mucus to trap foreign pathogens;
- They stimulate hairlike structures (known as cilia) to help sweep those trapped pathogens and debris through your airway; and
- They produce nitric oxide, which can help to actively kill the pathogens.
T2R38 is a specific form of T2R gene that has been studied extensively for many years and is known to have two common haplotypes (sets of DNA variations): the functional allele variant, PAV, and the non-functional allele variant, AVI. As humans inherit one allele from each parent, there are three primary combinations:
- PAV/PAV – The homozygous form with two functional alleles
- PAV/AVI – The heterozygous form with one functional and one non-functional allele
- AVI/AVI – The homozygous form with two non-functional alleles
Ideally, you want your BTRs backed by genes with two active alleles that are functioning at a high capacity to have strong sinonasal innate immunity. Early research results indicate that your current BTR functionality correlates with your level of sinonasal innate immunity against upper respiratory infections, though further research is needed and ongoing. Your specific genetic combination of T2Rs is relevant as it sets the stage for the level of your BTRs’ functionality, but your age and certain environmental factors may affect the actual functionality of your BTRs over a period of time. Therefore, it is paramount to measure your current level of BTRs’ functionality to understand your level of sinonasal innate immunity against upper respiratory infections.
Measuring Phenotypic Expression
In an effort to create a simple, non-invasive test to measure your current functionality of BTRs, we focused on measuring the phenotypic expression of T2R BTRs. Using a sequence of specifically engineered taste test strips, our early research shows that we can determine T2R expression levels. While your T2R genotype refers to your unique set of genes, your phenotype refers to your observable physical traits and is influenced by your genotype as well as your age and environment.
Beyond being more affordable and less invasive than genetic testing, measuring the phenotypic expression of T2R BTRs is relevant since age and environmental factors can inhibit the functionality of your BTRs, and thus your sinonasal innate immunity.
Recently published research has explored the link between phenotypic expression of T2R BTRs and sinonasal innate immune responses toward certain upper respiratory tract infections. This research suggests that adults with a low level of phenotypic expression of T2R BTRs are more likely to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 than adults with a higher level of phenotypic expression of T2R BTRs, which may indicate an enhanced level of sinonasal innate immunity. Further research is needed and is ongoing.