Pulse 144: Social Distancing and Potential COVID-19 Cures

23 March 2020
Giulio Prisco

Social Distancing

Like many people, I am staying home all the time, except for long walks in the woods and occasional trips to the grocery store, which I try to minimize. I am in reasonably good health. And I’m pretty sure that I would survive COVID-19. But I’m very scared of infecting my wife.

This is the main reason why younger and healthy people should stay at home. Perhaps they are strong and healthy enough to survive COVID-19. But they could infect weaker people for whom the virus could be very dangerous.

I must confess that “social distancing” is very easy for me, a born introvert who finds social interactions very tiring and is perfectly happy at home alone. But most people need frequent social contacts.

So I think “physical distancing” is a clearer and better term than "social distancing." We should stay at home to avoid putting ourselves and others at risk. But take advantage of modern teleconferencing options to be closer to others. Invite your friends to a Zoom party!

Last week we covered some encouraging scientific advances, which suggest that COVID-19 therapies and vaccines could be developed soon.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a large global trial to find out if any existing drug can treat COVID-19, Science reports. On Sunday, the French National Research Institute for Medical Research (INSERM) announced it will coordinate an add-on trial in Europe. The drugs that the trial will test are Remdesivir, Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine, a combination of Ritonavir and Lopinavir (sold under the brand name Kaletra among others), and the same plus interferon beta.

Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine “received significant attention” in many countries, according to the report of a WHO working group. The attention was sparked by a letter by Chinese researchers who reported treating more than 100 patients with chloroquine, and a study by French researchers who reported treating 20 patients with hydroxychloroquine.

The global trial is likely to take some time, and therefore some people could panic-buy these drugs, or even take them for COVID-19 prevention. This is not recommended, because these drugs are used to treat serious medical conditions, and panic-buying could disrupt their supply. Also, these drugs can have severe and dangerous side effects.

COVID-19 on Surfaces and in Aerosols

Scientists at UC Los Angeles, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Princeton University, have confirmed that the virus that causes COVID-19 remains for several hours to days on surfaces and in aerosols.

A study published in New England Journal of Medicine suggests that people may acquire the coronavirus through the air and after touching contaminated objects. The scientists discovered the virus is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

Powerful, Less Intrusive Brain-Machine Interfaces

Researchers at Francis Crick Institute, Stanford University, and UC London have developed a new device for connecting the brain directly to silicon-based technologies.

The new device, described in a paper published in Science Advances, combines silicon chip technology with super-slim microwires, up to 15-times thinner than a human hair. The wires are so thin they can be placed deep in the brain without causing significant damage. And the device can record more data while being less intrusive than existing options.

The researchers are persuaded that the new device could lead to advances in mechanical prosthetics for amputees, people with paralysis, or people with neurological conditions such as motor neuron disease. It may also help to restore speech and vision.

Nanomaterial as Artificial Human Tissue

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have created a new, rubber-like material with a unique set of properties. It could act as a replacement for human tissue in medical procedures.

The new material, described in a paper published in ACS Nano, is based on plexiglass that has been redesigned and restructured at the nanoscale (“nanostructured”) to exhibit an uncommon combination of properties. The properties include high elasticity, easy processability, and suitability for medical uses.

The new material can be loaded with medicine for various therapeutic purposes such as improving healing and reducing inflammation. Researchers are persuaded that it has the potential to make a big difference in many people's lives.

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