New Delhi: As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to infect thousands across the world, researchers are looking at new ways of fighting the illness.
Here are some of the latest developments from scientists around the world on the Covid-19 front.
New filter can clean ‘destructive’ proteins in Covid-19 patients
Scientists have created a novel blood filter that can clean up cytokine storms created by Covid-19 that cause organ damage in Covid-19 patients.
When a virus attacks, our immune system releases a large amount of cytokines –- tiny proteins -– to defeat the enemy. They normally stop coming when the virus is defeated. But at times they don’t stop and eventually attack a patient’s body. This is called a cytokine storm.
Researchers from the Augusta University in the US have replaced the usual filter in a kidney dialysis machine with one known to trap cytokines in order to help reduce death risks in Covid-19 patients.
The team had previously been working with those affected by Covid-19, many of whom needed dialysis because their kidneys were failing. It was then that they wondered if dialysis could also be used to cleanse the blood of excessive and destructive cytokines.
The researchers have secured emergency use authorisation of the filter from the US Food and Drug Administration. This filter is also used to treat sepsis, another overwhelming and typically bacterial infection that also produces cytokine storms.
Since last week, the researchers have been using the blood filter for up to 72 hours, the outside limit for the life of a filter, when patients show signs of respiratory problems. They have been assessing cytokine levels before the new therapy, then at 24 and 48 hours to look at trends and assess how the patients were doing clinically.
The team is collecting data on the patients and preparing to conduct clinical trials to see whether the device can significantly improve outcomes for patients.
Study to test breastmilk for coronavirus
Researchers in the US are conducting a study to test whether breastmilk from women who have tested positive for Covid-19 might contain the novel coronavirus.
The team from University of Idaho and University of Rochester in New York hope that data from their study will help health officials advise breastfeeding mothers who test positive for Covid-19.
Current advice on breastfeeding by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO) differ.
While the academy and CDC recommend separating mothers and infants after a positive test, the WHO says that women should continue breastfeeding while maintaining heightened hygiene practices.
However, no study has provided a reliable answer on whether the virus is present in breast milk. The new project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
App to predict coronavirus hotspots a week before outbreak
A mobile application launched in March this year, that allows users to self-report symptoms of Covid-19, could help predict geographical hotspots of the disease a week before a potential outbreak.
The app was developed by the Coronavirus Pandemic Epidemiology (COPE) Consortium — a multinational collaboration composed of researchers studying a diverse patient population.
Launched in the UK on 24 March and in the US five days later, the new app has already tracked information from patients and healthcare workers. Researchers have looked at the data on symptoms by individuals who had reported results to the tracker within its initial launch period.
Positive tests for the disease were often predicted by combinations of three or more symptoms, including fatigue and cough, followed by diarrhea, fever, and loss of smell.
Based on this symptom data, the researchers have developed a prediction model.
They successfully predicted two spikes in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in advance of public health authorities. The results point to mobile technology as a resource for providing real-time infection information.
Structure of spike protein may explain why it is so infectious
Scientists at the Cornell University have identified a unique feature of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that allows the virus to easily transmit from one person to another.
Their study have found a structural loop in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the area of the virus that facilitates its entry into a cell. They also identified a sequence of four amino acids in this loop that is different from other known human coronaviruses.
An analysis of the lineage of SARS-CoV-2 has showed that it shared properties of the closely related SARS-CoV-1, which first appeared in humans in 2003 and is lethal but not highly contagious, and HCoV-HKU1, a highly transmissible but relatively benign human coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 is both highly transmissible and lethal.
According to the researchers, their findings indicate that aside from primates, cats, ferrets and mink are the animal species apparently most susceptible to the coronavirus.
Heating could be the best way to disinfect N95 masks
Faced with shortage of N95 masks, the best practice to disinfect N95 masks before reusing them is to heat them, scientists have suggested.
For their study, researchers used pieces of the fabric used to make N95 masks — because these should be preserved for healthcare workers.
They treated these pieces with disinfectants and compared their ability to filter aerosol particles — resembling respiratory droplets, but lacking coronavirus — before and after disinfection.
The team found that spraying the fabric with an ethanol or chlorine bleach solution drastically reduced the filtration efficiency after only one treatment. Steam treatments led to a sharp decline in efficiency after five cycles.
UV radiation allowed up to 20 cycles of disinfection. However, knowing the exact dose of UV that kills the virus without damaging mask materials could be problematic, the researchers said.
But heating the material at 85 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes allowed the fabric to be treated 50 times without loss of filtration efficiency.