What started about a year ago as an artistic exploration of the immune systems attack on nerve cells in multiple sclerosis (MS), has emerged as a resonant investigation of our current global crisis—COVID-19. With MS, it is believed that the damage done to the nervous system that leads to disability is done by over-active immune cells attacking and damaging the myelin sheath around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As it turns out, this is similar to the aggressive immune response seen with COVID-19. In this pandemic, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 infiltrates cells along the respiratory tract and then uses them to replicate. In response, the patient’s immune system kicks into overdrive and launches a “scorched earth” assault to overcome the infection. Again, as in MS, this immune system response itself can cause serious damage. Generally, however, and unlike MS, this counter-insurgency effort by the immune system in fighting the coronavirus, can lead to very serious, sometimes deadly, results very quickly.
Also, while there are striking similarities, there are significant differences. MS is not known to be caused by a specific virus. Why the immune system attacks nerve cells in MS is not really known. This is very different from the current pandemic in that we know the enemy and understand why our immune system wants to eradicate it, even when doing so causes additional damage and harm.
So this body of work, even though born of curiosity and learning related to the cause and progression of MS, strikes me as relevant and poignant as we face this latest viral outbreak.
The quote below is from this article which has some great details on the action involved in the COVID-19 infection. And the video clip above is a portion of a video from a series of projects I’ve been working with off and on since 2019. I’ve recently revisited the projects to continue the work.
“SARS-CoV-2 grows in type II lung cells, which secrete a soap-like substance that helps air slip deep into the lungs, and in cells lining the throat. As with SARS, most of the damage in COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, is caused by the immune system carrying out a scorched earth defense to stop the virus from spreading.
Millions of cells from the immune system invade the infected lung tissue and cause massive amounts of damage in the process of cleaning out the virus and any infected cells.”