1 July 2020
Source: The Week Staff
Scotland tests COVID-19 therapy to boost immune response early in infection
A Scottish biotech firm called TC BioPharm has won approval to test an experimental T-cell injection therapy to fight COVID-19 by boosting the immune system early in a coronavirus infection, the Financial Times reports. The six-month trial in Edinburgh will involve harvesting T-cells from healthy people, cultivating a large number of the cells in a lab, then injecting the donor cells into hospitalized patients. A large enough infusion could head off the infection before the patient needs to move to intensive care, and even prevent cytokine storms that ravage patients whose bodies mount an overly aggressive immune response. "We have got some evidence that if you kill the virus effectively early on, then [there] should be no reason for the host to have this overwhelming response," Dr. Nik Hirani at Edinburgh University's Center for Inflammation Research tells FT. T-cells decrease in number as people get older, so the injections might be especially helpful for elderly patients.
Human-safe UV light could be key in reopening indoor spaces
A study from Columbia University Irving Medical Center, published in Scientific Reports, found more than 99.9 percent of coronaviruses in airborne droplets were killed when exposed to far-UVC light continuously for around 25 minutes. A different wavelength has been used to disinfect empty public spaces, but was a health hazard to humans. Far-UVC is safe, and "cannot reach or damage living cells in the body," per the study. Since the COVID-19 coronavirus is largely spread via airborne droplets, "it's important to have a tool that can safely inactivate the virus while it's in the air, particularly while people are around," said the study's lead author David Brenner. The light is safe to use in places including hospitals, schools, offices, theaters, and various modes of public transportation. Far-UVC light safely kills other viruses, too, including airborne influenza. "Anywhere that people gather indoors, far-UVC light could be used in combination with other measures, like wearing face masks and washing hands, to limit the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses," Brenner said.
Research from Italy finds COVID-19 hospital mortality rates are falling
Encouraging new research from Italy found the mortality rate of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 declined from 24 percent in March to just 2 percent in May at a hospital in Milan, despite there not being a significant change in patients' age demographic. There are a number of possible explanations. Doctors may have simply gotten better at treating the disease and its various side-effects. Another possibility is that Italy's lockdown measures were effective at curbing the spread of the virus, which subsequently helped lessen the strain on the health-care system. The study, published in Pathogens and Global Health, also proposes that decreases in co-infections of other respiratory viruses, like the flu, lowered the number of severe coronavirus cases. Finally, there's a small chance that a viral mutation is a factor, although scientists have largely dismissed the notion that the virus has been or will be significantly altered enough to become any more or less deadly anytime soon.
Homemade cloth masks can successfully block coronavirus particles, study shows
A new study eases some concerns that nothing but medical-grade masks can filter coronavirus particles. While N95 masks remain the most effective at containing the virus particles, cloth masks can help too, the study found. The study, published in ACS Nano and involving researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation Institute, found that cotton was particularly effective, though Gizmodo notes that more tightly-woven cotton fabrics, like the kind used in flannel, were better filters than others. Layering seems to be key for homemade masks, as well. The best single-layer cotton blocked about 20 percent of the coronavirus-sized particles used in the study, which is useful, but a far cry from the 95 percent filtered by N95 masks. While homemade masks won't provide complete protection, they do appear to at least mitigate the chance of being infected, and can also help prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others.
Former FDA commissioner predicts coronavirus vaccine or treatment within 6 months
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb appears confident that, within six months, some technological development — whether in the form of a vaccine or a treatment — will end the epidemic and turn COVID-19 into a more manageable threat. Gottlieb said Sunday that available data suggests a vaccine will come onto the scene in early 2021, echoing recent comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci, but he also added that therapeutic antibodies should be ready to go by the fall and produced at scale by the end of the year. "This is a hard moment," Gottlieb tweeted. "But it's a brief moment in our long history. It's six months until we get to a technology to end the COVID epidemic through vaccines or medicines. We need to act collectively to reduce our overall threat during this time of risk and uncertainty."