June 17, 2020 / 7:41 PM / 24 days ago

Tiny sponges may soak up coronavirus; old steroid dexamethasone saves lives in COVID-19 study

(Reuters) - The following is a brief roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Microscopic sponges may be able to soak up the coronavirus

Scientists have developed microscopic sponges - a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair - they hope might be used inside the body to attract and neutralize the coronavirus. The "nanosponges" are coated with membranes from lung cells or from immune cells known as macrophages, study co-leader Liangfang Zhang of the University of California, San Diego told Reuters. These cell membranes have the same receptor proteins on their surfaces that the virus uses to break into cells in the body. In test tube experiments, the nanosponges successfully acted as decoys to attract and inactivate the virus, Zhang's team reported on Wednesday in the journal Nano Letters. "In principle, the nanosponges should work everywhere in the body," Zhang said. "If we directly administer the nanosponges to the lungs...they will primarily stay in the lungs. However, if we administer them to the blood directly through intravenous injections, they will circulate in the blood and go through all organs." The nanosponges, which are biodegradable, are being designed to protect healthy cells no matter what virus attacks them, he emphasized. In theory, they could be used to neutralize mutations and new viral species as well, Zhang said. (bit.ly/3hBSp7U)

Cheap generic steroid may be life saver for critically ill COVID-19 patients

A cheap and widely used steroid called dexamethasone is the first drug shown to save the lives of severely ill COVID-19 patients in a study researchers hailed as a "major breakthrough" in the coronavirus pandemic. Results from the trial announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone reduced death rates by around a third compared with a placebo in severely ill hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Among patients with COVID-19 who did not require a ventilator or supportive oxygen, there was no benefit from treatment with dexamethasone. The results suggest the drug should become the standard of care in severe cases, researchers said. "If patients who have COVID-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost," said Martin Landray of Oxford University, who co-led the trial in which roughly 2,100 patients received dexamethasone and 4,300 patients did not. The study results have not yet been peer reviewed or posted online. Many doctors said they hope to be able to review the study data in detail as soon as possible. (reut.rs/2USRrdG; reut.rs/2UWvzhE)

Two antibody drugs likely better than one against coronavirus

Scientists at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc have determined a combination of two antibody drugs may be the best approach for attacking the new coronavirus. The drugs, known as monoclonal antibodies, are among the most commonly used type of biotech medicines. The researchers screened thousands of antibody candidates to identify highly potent pairs that attach themselves to the virus simultaneously in different places. Two papers published on Monday in the journal Science explain the selection process and why the researchers believe such a "cocktail" is better than one drug, even though one would be less expensive and easier to manufacture at scale. The double-antibody approach is designed not only to be effective as a treatment, the researchers say, but to protect against the virus developing resistance to single antibody therapies. Regeneron last week began testing the combination called REGN-COV2 in a clinical trial comparing it to a placebo in hospitalized patients and in patients with symptoms who are not sick enough to require hospitalization. (reut.rs/2YNpB3P; bit.ly/2Chq9Hu; bit.ly/2CijXPt)

Flushing with open lid allows “massive” spread of virus particles

A new study suggests closing the toilet lid before flushing may be another precaution people should take to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. About 40% of infected people have virus particles in their stool, although scientists do not know if those particles are infectious. However, the study shows they are sprayed around the room (or the restroom stall) if the toilet lid is not closed before flushing. In a report published on Tuesday in Physics of Fluids, researchers called the results "alarming" and said flushing without closing the lid resulted in "massive upward transport of virus particles... with 40% to 60% reaching above the toilet seat, leading to large-scale virus spread." In the original SARS outbreak in 2003, at least one cluster of cases was traced to spread via aerosols from toilets in a Hong Kong apartment building. UCLA researcher Amandine Gamble, who studies aerosol and surface stability of coronaviruses, told Reuters that if this mode of transmission is verified with the new coronavirus, closing toilet lids before flushing "is a really good recommendation." (bit.ly/2AIdD3a)

Reporting by Nancy Lapid, Deena Beasley, Carolyn Crist; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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