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Science summary: A look at novel coronavirus research around the globe

Here is a summary of some recent research from peer-reviewed academic journals and scientific agencies.

May 14, 2020   by Bob Weber

Thousands of scientists around the world are working on problems raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a summary of some recent research from peer-reviewed academic journals and scientific agencies:

Elective surgeries delayed

The Canadian Journal of Surgery says the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening long waits for elective surgeries. In British Columbia, there are more than 30,000 procedures either postponed or not scheduled. Another 24,000 patients were not added to the provincial wait-list who normally would have been. The Ontario government estimates that from March 15 to April 22, there were 52,700 hospital procedures cancelled or not scheduled. Up to 12,200 more procedures are delayed each week that the province’s hospitals continue to postpone elective surgery. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) recommends elective surgery not resume until COVID-19 incidence doesn’t increase for at least 14 days.

Low cost test

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Researchers at the University of Guelph say they may have a COVID-19 test that could process thousands of samples for as little as $1 each. The team has adapted methods developed to measure biodiversity to look for the novel coronavirus. The scientists say the test uses automation and inexpensive chemicals and could run through thousands of samples in as few as 16 hours. Current COVID-19 tests cost between $40 and $100 and are still in limited supply.

How COVID-19 kills

An article in the journal Frontiers In Public Health offers a rundown of how COVID-19 kills. The virus infects airways and can force the immune system to overactivate white blood cells, which release too many inflammation-stimulating molecules into the blood. Those molecules cause fever, leaking blood vessels, blood clotting, low blood pressure, lack of oxygen and fluid buildup in the lungs. White blood cells are misdirected to attack and inflame healthy tissue, including the lungs, heart, liver, intestines, kidneys and genitals. This may worsen and line the lungs with a membrane of protein debris and dead cells, which makes absorption of oxygen difficult. Most deaths due to COVID-19 are due to respiratory failure.

Promising treatment

An editorial in the journal Science says results from a new treatment drug are very encouraging. The drug, remdesivir, was originally developed for the Ebola virus but found ineffective. For the new coronavirus, however, remdesivir seems to interrupt the action of an enzyme the virus needs to replicate its genetic material. In both uncontrolled and double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, remdesivir hastened recovery _ although one Chinese study didn’t find benefits. The editorial says the finding may point to other treatments for similar viruses in the future.

No single approach to a vaccine

A Science editorial co-written by top US infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci says no single approach to a vaccine will provide the answer to COVID-19. It says that even though much work is being done, questions remain about what constitutes a protective immune response. A diversity of approaches is needed, it says. The authors praise a program that brings together the US National Institutes of Health with other government departments, universities, charities and more than 15 biopharmaceutical companies. They say each step of the vaccine process should be co-ordinated under one oversight body with standard criteria and shared data to scale up eventual vaccine manufacturing capacity and distribution.

Ethics of personal and cellphone data tracking

Researchers in the journal Science are debating the ethics of using personal and cellphone data to track the spread of COVID-19. While the authors acknowledge such data can be useful, it also raises unsettled issues. Among them are when surveillance should be ended, whether citizens should be asked permission and how those handling data should be held accountable. The authors conclude some of those data-driven approaches described for COVID-19 are justified if implemented carefully.

 


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