Pulse 158: Wear Those Masks

30 June 2020
Giulio Prisco

Family with Masks

Yesterday, our swimming pool reopened after four months. All over the world, COVID-19 lockdown measures are being eased. This is a very good thing for citizens and businesses.

But we should also bear in mind that the pandemic is NOT over. And a next COVID-19 wave is likely. A model developed by Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) shows that de-confinement must be gradual and that individual behavior is a key factor.

"If we manage to reduce transmission rate by 30 percent through the use of face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing, we can considerably reduce the magnitude of the next wave," said Xavier Rodó, head of ISGlobal's Climate and Health programme in a press release. "Reducing transmission rate by 50 percent could avoid it completely."

Even those who are not scared of being infected themselves should continue taking appropriate measures to avoid infecting others. This is basic human decency. So please continue to wash your hands. And keep those masks on!

How To Avoid Need of Future Lockdowns

Researchers at Barcelona Institute for Global Health have suggested that maintaining social distancing and other interventions, such as the use of face masks and hand hygiene, could remove the need for future lockdowns.

The researchers base their suggestion on the results of a study published in Nature Human Behaviour. They argue that, in countries that have not yet reached the peak of active cases, lockdowns must remain in place for at least 60 days. And de-confinement must be gradual, in order to decrease the risk of second waves.

Ultrasound Immunotherapy Cures Cancer in Mice

Scientists led by University of Tel Aviv have developed a noninvasive technology platform for gene delivery into breast cancer cells.

The technique is described in a research paper published in PNAS. It combines ultrasound with tumor-targeted microbubbles. Once the ultrasound is activated, the microbubbles explode like smart and targeted warheads, creating holes in cancer cells' membranes, enabling gene delivery.

In laboratory mice, about 80 percent of tumor cells were destroyed in the explosion. To destroy the remaining 20 percent of tumor cells, the scientists injected an immunotherapy gene alongside the microbubbles. Membrane pores were formed in the tumor cells that survived the initial explosion, allowing the entry of the gene into the cells. This triggered an immune response that destroyed the tumor cells.

One-Time Treatment Cures Parkinson’s in Mice

Researchers at UC San Diego have found a way to generate new neurons and eliminate Parkinson’s disease symptoms in laboratory mice.

A study published in Nature reports on a single treatment to inhibit a gene called PTB in mice. It converts native astrocytes (brain support cells) into neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. As a result, the mice's Parkinson's disease symptoms disappear.

The researchers are persuaded that the study provides a proof of concept for future medical applications.

Bacteriophages Could Assist COVID-19 Patients

Scientists at University of Birmingham and Cancer Registry of Norway have found that bacteriophages could be harnessed to combat bacterial infections in patients whose immune systems have been weakened by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. Bacteriophages are viruses that prey on bacteria.

In a study published in Phage, two strategies are proposed. In the first approach, bacteriophages would be used to target secondary bacterial infections in patients' respiratory systems. In the second approach, synthetically altered bacteriophages could be used to manufacture antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They could then be administered to patients via a nasal or oral spray.

Stress Response May Help Cancer Drug Discovery

Experimenting with laboratory mice, researchers at UC San Diego have found that manipulating macrophages could be a viable strategy for treating cancer. Macrophages are a type of immune cell found abundantly in the tissues surrounding a tumor.

A paper published in PLoS Biology shows how a molecule involved in cells' response to stress determines whether macrophages promote inflammation in the tumor microenvironment. Inflammation is known to promote tumor growth, making this molecule an attractive target for drug development.

Enhanced Formulation of Prostate Cancer Drug

Researchers at University of South Australia have shown that a new formulation of a prostate cancer drug could dramatically improve the quality of life for people suffering from prostate cancer. The drug is abiraterone acetate, currently marketed as Zytiga.

The new formulation uses very high levels of abiraterone acetate, dissolved within a specific oil and encapsulated within porous silica microparticles, to form a powder. The powder can be made into tablets or filled into capsules.

The results of pre-clinical trials were published in International Journal of Pharmaceutics. They show that the new formulation improves the drug's effectiveness by 40 percent.

The researchers suggest that patient care could be extensively improved using this technology.

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