‘This is just the beginning’: Research in Covid-19 opens doors to understand other diseases and conditions
‘This is just the beginning’: Research in Covid-19 opens doors to understand other diseases and conditions

‘This is just the beginning’: Research in Covid-19 opens doors to understand other diseases and conditions

Companies wishing to use mRNA to treat cystic fibrosis include ReCode Therapeutics, Arcturus Therapeuticsand Moderna and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which cooperate. The companies’ goal is to correct a fundamental defect in cystic fibrosis, a mutated protein.

Instead of replacing the protein itself, the researchers plan to supply mRNA that would instruct the body in making the normal, healthy version of the protein, said David Lockhart, ReCodes president and chief science officer.

None of these drugs are in clinical trials yet.

That leaves patients like Nicholas Kelly waiting for better treatment options.

Kelly, 35, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant and has never been healthy enough to work full time. He was recently hospitalized for 2½ months due to a lung infection, a common complication for the 30,000 Americans with the disease. Although new drugs have changed the lives of most people with CF, they do not work in 10% of patients. About a third of patients who do not benefit from the new drug are black and / or Hispanic, said JP ClancyVice President of Clinical Research for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“No one wants to be hospitalized,” said Kelly, who lives in Cleveland. “If something could reduce my symptoms even 10%, I would try it.”

Prediction of which Covid patients are most likely to die

Ambitious scientific efforts have in the past given consumers technological gains; the race to land on the moon in the 1960s led to the development of CT scanners and MRI machines, freeze-dried food, wireless headphones, water purification systemsand the computer mouse.

Similarly, funding for AIDS research has benefited patients with a variety of diseases, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. Studies of HIV led to the development of better drugs against hepatitis C and cytomegalovirus or CMV; paved the way for successful immunotherapies in cancer; and accelerated the development of covid vaccines.

Over the past two years, medical researchers have generated more than 230,000 medical journal articlesdocumenting studies on vaccines, antiviral drugs and other drugs, as well as basic research into the structure of the virus and how it evades the immune system.
Dr. Michelle Monje, Professor of Neurology at Stanford University, have found similarities in the cognitive side effects caused by covid and a side effect of cancer treatment often called “chemo brain”. Learning more about the root causes of these memory problems, Monje said, could help scientists find ways to prevent or treat them.
James hopes that computer technology used to detect covid will improve the treatment of other diseases. For example, researchers have shown that mobile phone apps can help detect potentially covid casess by monitoring patients’ self-reported symptoms. James said she wonders if the same technology could predict the flare-up of autoimmune diseases.

“We had never dreamed that we could get a PCR test that could be performed anywhere other than a laboratory,” James said. “Now we can make them by a patient’s bed in rural Oklahoma. It could help us with quick tests for other diseases.”

One of the main pandemic breakthrough was the discovery it 15% to 20% of patients over 70 who die of covid has junk antibodies that inactivate an important part of the immune system. Although antibodies usually protect us from infection, these “autoantibodies” attack a protein called interferon that acts as a first line of defense against viruses.
By disabling important immune fighters, autoantibodies to interferon allow the coronavirus to multiply wildly. The massive infection that occurs can cause the rest of the immune system to go into hyperactivity, causing a life-threatening “cytokine storm,” said Dr. Paul Bastard, a researcher at Rockefeller University.
Now proven against coronavirus, mRNA can do so much more

The discovery of interferon-targeted antibodies “certainly changed my way of thinking at a broad level,” said E. John Wherry, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Immunology, who was not involved in the studies. “This is a paradigm shift in immunology and in covid.”

Antibodies that inactivate interferon may explain why a fraction of patients succumb to viral diseases, such as the flu, while most recover, Dr. Gary Michelson, founder and co-chair of Michelson philanthropista nonprofit organization that funds medical research and recently donated its to Bastard opening price in immunology.

The discovery “goes far beyond the impact of covid-19,” Michelson said. “These findings may have implications for the treatment of patients with other infectious diseases” such as influenza.

Bastard and colleagues have also found that one-third of patients with dangerous reactions to yellow fever have autoantibodies to interferon.

International research teams are now looking for such autoantibodies in patients hospitalized by other viral infections, including chickenpox, influenza, measles, respiratory syncytial virus, and others.

Overthrow dogma

For decades, public health officials created policies based on the assumption that viruses spread in one of two ways: either through the air, like measles and tuberculosis, or through heavy, wet drops that squirt from our mouth and nose, and then quickly fall to the ground, like the flu.
In the first 17 months of the covid pandemic, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said coronavirus spread through droplets and advised people to wash their hands, stand 6 feet apart and wear face masks. As the crisis continued and accumulated evidenceresearchers began to discuss whether the coronavirus could also be airborne.
The CDC website now highlights the spread of coronavirus in the air

Today, it is clear that coronavirus – and all respiratory viruses – are spread through a combination of droplets and aerosols, said Dr. Michael Klompas, professor at Harvard Medical School and infectious disease physician.

“It’s not either / or,” Klompas said. “We have created this artificial dichotomy about how we think about these viruses. But we always emit a mixture of both” when we breathe, cough and sneeze.

It is important to know that respiratory viruses are commonly spread through the air because it can help health authorities protect the public. For example, high-quality masks, such as N95 respirators, provide much better protection against airborne viruses than fabric masks or surgical masks. Improving ventilation so that the air in a room is completely replaced at least four to six times an hour is another important way to control airborne viruses.

Still, Klompas said, there is no guarantee the country will handle the next outbreak better than this. “Will we do a better job of fighting the flu because of what we’ve learned?” said Klompas. “I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Fighting chronic disease

Lauren Nichols, 32, remembers exactly when she developed her first covid symptoms: March 10, 2020.

It was the beginning of a disease that has plagued her for almost two years, with no end in sight. Although Nichols was healthy before she developed what has become known as “long covid”, she handles dizziness, headaches and debilitating fatigue, which get significantly worse after exercise. She has had shingles – a painful rash caused by reactivation of the chickenpox virus – four times since her covid infection.

US launches study of long Covid in tens of thousands of patients
Six months after testing positive for covid, Nichols was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitisor ME / CFS, which affects more than 1 million Americans and causes many of the same symptoms as covid. There are few effective treatments for both conditions.

In fact, research suggests that “the two conditions are one and the same,” said Dr. Avindra Nath, clinical director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health. The biggest difference is that people with long-term covid know which virus caused their illness, while the exact virus behind most cases of chronic fatigue is unknown, Nath said.

Advocates for patients with long-term covid want to ensure that future research – e.g. $ 1.15 billion in targeted funding from NIH – benefits all patients with chronic, postviral diseases.

“Anything that shows promise in long-term covid will be tested immediately in ME / CFS,” said Jarred Younger, director of the Neuroinflammation, Pain and Fatigue Laboratory at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have felt a kinship with long-term covid patients and vice versa, not only because they experience the same confusing symptoms, but also because both have struggled to achieve compassionate, appropriate care, said Nichols, vice president of Body policyan advocacy group for people with chronic covid and other chronic or disabling disorders.

“There’s a lot of frustration about being written off by the medical community, being told that it’s all in one’s head, that they should just see a psychiatrist or go to the gym,” said Dr. David Systrom, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

That kind of ignorance seems to be waning, mainly due to growing awareness of long-term covid, said Emily Taylor, vice president of advocacy and engagement at Solve ME, an advocacy group for people with post-infectious chronic diseases. Although some doctors still refuse to believe that prolonged covid is a real disease, “they are drowning in the patient’s voices,” Taylor said.

ONE new study from the National Institutes of Health, called RECOVER (Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery), enrolls 15,000 people with long-term covid and a comparison group of nearly 3,000 others who have not had covid.

“In a very dark cloud,” said Nichols, “a silver that comes out of long covid is that we have been compelled to recognize how real and serious these conditions are.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Together with policy analysis and opinion polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a gifted nonprofit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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