Pulse 147: Social Distancing and COVID-19 Clinical Trials

13 April 2020
Giulio Prisco

Social Distancing

According to Wall Street Journal, the poorer countries of Central and Eastern Europe are handling COVID-19 better than richer Western European countries. “Infections have largely been kept under control and governments are starting to loosen lockdowns.”

Fearing their relatively weak health-care systems would be overwhelmed by the virus, Central and Eastern European countries “moved more quickly to enact strict social-distancing rules and restrict movement to contain outbreaks.”

“Their speed and decisiveness, public-health experts say, were critical for these countries, where populations are older and doctors fewer than in the West and where hospitals aren’t as well equipped for a flood of seriously ill patients.”

Social distancing measures include, among other things, closing schools and universities. Does this negatively impact learning? No, according to a new Cornell University study. The study reports that students learned just as much in online college courses as they did in traditional classroom settings, and at a fraction of the cost.

A NIH clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of adults hospitalized with COVID-19 has begun, with the first participants now enrolled in Tennessee.

According to a NIH spokesperson, “preliminary reports suggest potential efficacy in small studies with patients. However, we really need clinical trial data to determine whether hydroxychloroquine is effective and safe in treating COVID-19.”

Drug Candidates May Help Treat COVID-19

Researchers at University of Queensland and other institutions, led by ShanghaiTech University, have tested more than 10,000 compounds to identify six drug candidates that may help treat COVID-19.

A study published in Nature reports that the researchers tested the efficacy of approved drugs and drug candidates in clinical trials. The study suggests that one drug, Ebselen, is especially promising.

Microbots Swim Through Body and Deliver Drugs

Researchers led by Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems  have fabricated biohybrid robots by combining genetically engineered bacteria and small structures made from red blood cells.

The biohybrid robots are described in a paper published in APL Bioengineering. They can pass through the body's immune response, swim quickly through viscous environments, and penetrate tissue cells to deliver cargo. Therefore, the robots can swim through the body and deliver drugs, for example to tumors.

Metal Surfaces Engineered to Kill Bacteria

Purdue University engineers have created a laser treatment method that could potentially turn any metal surface into a rapid bacteria killer.

In a study published in Advanced Materials Interfaces, the researchers describe a one-step laser-texturing technique that effectively enhances the bacteria-killing properties of copper's surface. The study demonstrates that the new method allows the surface of copper to immediately kill off bacteria.

Magnetic Brain Stimulation Relieves Depression

Stanford University researchers have found that a new form of magnetic brain stimulation can help patients with severe depression.

The Stanford Accelerated Intelligent Neuromodulation Therapy, or SAINT, is a form of transcranial magnetic stimulation. And it is approved by the FDA for treatment of depression.

A paper published in American Journal of Psychiatry reports that SAINT rapidly relieved symptoms of severe depression in 90 percent of participants in a small study.

Natural Product from Sponges May Block Cancer

Researchers led by Medical University of South Carolina have found that Manzamine A, a natural product derived from certain groups of sponges, can block the growth of cervical cancer cells.

Manzamine A targets a protein that is highly expressed in many cancers, including cervical cancer. And it is the first reported inhibitor of this protein.

A study published in Journal of Natural Products reports that Manzamine A stopped cervical cancer cells from growing and caused some cells to die but did not have the same effects on normal noncancerous cells.

According to the researchers, this is “a highly exciting new application for a molecule that has earlier shown significant potential for the control of malaria and has good drug-like properties.”

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