Science and the Coronavirus: Insights into vaccinations, treatment, and recovery
In our fifth edition of science and the coronavirus, we look at 5 stories related to the global pandemic. They cover all the bases, from vaccination to treatment and recovery.
A lockdown in the digital age means one thing above all - a wealth of information - mostly misinformation - unfurling from every smartphone, every WhatsApp forward, every pseudoscience article on Facebook.
One of the biggest battles we must fight in the Corona-age is against this. As nefarious as fake news, pseudoscience can take lives.
So stay calm, and read on, to understand the true science behind the virus we are only now slowly getting to know.
Here’s edition five of Science and the Coronavirus.
Today, we look at two possible avenues of prevention. As the age old saying goes, prevention is better than cure, and so we look at both the routes to a corona vaccine in India, as well as the possibility of an antiviral that could battle the deadly COVID-19. In the medical battle against the virus, chloroquine is the latest wonder drug.
We went through a study on the efficacy and safety of chloroquine for treatment, as well as a study on the insights from nanotechnology on how chloroquine might be working against SARS-CoV2.
Finally, we circle back to the biggest question on everyone’s mind - testing. We look at a case study from Wuhan, about how recovered patients first tested negative, and then positive again.
Let’s dive in.
Indian scientists have found a possible basis for a peptide based COVID-19 vaccine:
A team of scientists from King George’s Medical University in Lucknow examined the structure of the virus, and found that the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV in this study) is structurally similar to the SARS coronavirus.
This is good news for scientists looking for possible treatment avenues. The same inhibitors used in SARS vaccines could also be used to fight COVID-19.
They also found that the novel coronavirus has sites in the proteins in its outer layer, which could have played a part in helping it rapidly infect host cells.
An Ebola drug has become the top hope for a coronavirus treatment, and the best hope for an antiviral:
It’s been months since the coronavirus first emerged from China, but we still don’t have any medicine proven to treat it.
"There's only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy. And that's remdesivir." said Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor and international leader of the World Health Organization's joint mission to China, at a Feb. 24 press conference.
Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral developed by Gilead for use against Ebola. It’s being tested for its efficacy in treating COVID-19 now, and investigators expect results by April.
How safe and effective is Chloroquine really?
In the face of such a mammoth, international public emergency, governments and health systems tend to barrel towards the quickest solution possible. In the absence of any effective pharmaceutical treatment for the disease, there was a need for a comprehensive examination of the evidence surrounding chloroquine - the one drug that is being used for the treatment of COVID-19 right now.
Chloroquine and its derivative, hydroxychloroquine, are 70 year old malaria drugs, which have a long history as safe and inexpensive treatment against autoimmune diseases.
Chloroquine seems to be effective in limiting the spread of the coronavirus at the moment. To cement these findings, a team of scientists went over all the studies on the use of this drug - one narrative letter, one in-vitro study, one editorial, expert consensus paper, two national guideline documents - that have been published online, along with the results of 23 ongoing clinical trials in China.
They found that there is some evidence “of effectiveness and evidence of safety from long-time clinical use for other indications to justify clinical research on chloroquine in patients with COVID-19.”
Nanotechnology gives better insight into how Chloroquine might be working against SARS-CoV2:
Nanomedicine is the coolest field out there that we know very little about (no pun intended).
Nanomedicine has extensively used chloroquine in investigating how cells react to nanoparticles. In this case, it would give scientists insight into how a cell reacts to the novel coronavirus.
Ambiguity in test results among people who have recovered from the COVID-19 infection. What does this mean?
Wuhan, the epicentre of the first outbreak in China, saw some respite from new cases between March 18 to 22. Since then, however, some residents who had recovered from the virus and finally tested negative, once again returned positive tests. Data from the city shows that about 5 - 10 per cent of recovered patients have tested positive again. Several of these relapses are of an asymptomatic version of the virus.
The question has to be raised: Was China’s recovery real at all? What is afoot?
That's it for now. Remember, while you're researching and reading about this pandemic, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the anxiety we all feel, especially in the age of social isolation. Remember that mental health matters too, and this too shall pass.