Five New Insights in the Fight Against COVID-19

Researchers announce new findings on treatments, health impacts and repercussions for science education
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)

Scientists from around the world are gathering to share the latest research at the forefront of biology during the Experimental Biology (EB) 2021 meeting. Many sessions focus on the year’s most pressing priorities in bioscience: COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2. Here are five highlights:

 

Legacy of COVID-19 in blood vessels may raise risk of heart disease

A study from the Medical College of Wisconsin suggests COVID-19 could cause long-term problems with the functioning of blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of heart disease. Scientists examined arterioles, small branches of the cardiovascular system, in tissue samples from 14 people who had recovered from COVID-19 and 19 who had never had COVID-19. Arterioles regulate the flow of oxygen-rich blood to tissues by widening (dilating) and narrowing according to the body’s needs at each moment. When exposed to stimuli (like chemicals or flow) that cause blood vessels to dilate, the arterioles from COVID-19 patients did not widen nearly as much as those from people without COVID-19. This effect was attributed to impaired functioning of the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels. The effect was most pronounced in samples from people who had COVID-19 less than three months earlier; endothelium functioning was still impaired but closer to normal by eight months after infection. Over time, endothelial dysfunction in the blood vessels can lead to several forms of heart disease.

 

Yoshinori Nishijima will present this research online from 11:15–11:30 a.m. Thursday, April 29 (abstract). Images available.

 

Promising leads in the search for COVID-19 treatments

While vaccines are critical to curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still a need for better treatments to improve the outlook for those who become infected. Research from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center suggests drugs that inhibit a key enzyme in the SARS-CoV-2 virus could offer promising leads for an antiviral treatment. In experiments using cell cultures, the researchers found that three naturally occurring compounds significantly reduced the activity of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease, an enzyme the virus uses to replicate. The research team was able to trace how two of the compounds, phebestin and probestin, inhibit the main protease at the molecular level. They also found that these compounds did not harm mouse cells from the lining of the lungs, a test used to screen for safety concerns associated with delivering medicines through the nose. Based on these findings, the researchers say the compounds, which are members of a class of molecules called peptidic a-hydroxy amides, warrant further study as potential antiviral drugs for COVID-19. 

 

Nagendra Yarla will present this research online on-demand from April 27–30 (abstract). Images available.

 

Molecules found in stem cells could calm COVID-19 cytokine storm

Treatment options are currently limited for patients with COVID-19 who suffer an excessive immune response known as a cytokine storm, which causes life-threatening damage to organs and tissues. Research led by the Houston Methodist Research Institute demonstrates that stem cells isolated from amniotic fluid contain several molecules that might be able to help counter a cytokine storm. Unlike embryonic stem cells, these cells are routinely collected to test amniotic fluid during prenatal diagnosis, without harm to the mother or fetus. Researchers found that the amniotic stem cells contained molecules involved in communicating with immune cells, regulating immunity and inflammation, protecting and repairing the lining of the lungs and maintaining a healthy heart. The study suggests mesenchymal stem cells from amniotic fluid, which have previously been explored as a therapy for other conditions, could offer a new option for treating the severe and chronic inflammation resulting from COVID-19 infection. 

 

Salvatore Vaiasicca will present this research online from 2:45–3 p.m. Wednesday, April 28 (abstract).

 

Expert roundtable: Toward understanding and containing the COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers will present a series of lightning talks on the mechanisms underlying COVID-19 infections along with updates on current and emerging treatments and vaccines. Topics include SARS-CoV-2 variants and genomic analysis; autopsy-derived insights into the pathobiology of COVID-19; the race for a vaccine; and mitigating COVID-19 in meat and poultry processing plants.

 

The session will be held online from 2–5 p.m. on Friday, April 30, and include a live Q&A with experts (more information).

 

How COVID-19 changed practices for science education 

How did science educators and students adjust to constraints on in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic? A survey of educators in anatomy — a field with a strong emphasis on in-person, hands-on learning — sheds light on changing practices. Researchers from 10 universities across the U.S. and Canada conducted two surveys of anatomy educators in 2020. The first survey collected 67 responses from May through August, and the second collected 191 responses from August to December, reflecting the summer and fall terms, respectively. Respondents reported a drastic reduction of in-person lectures while remote instruction increased; they also reduced the use of cadavers and increased the use of other laboratory teaching materials, such as digital and virtual anatomical technology. These changes were most pronounced early in the pandemic. During the final months of 2020, respondents reported greater use of in-person teaching and use of cadavers, though these practices were still diminished and varied by institution compared with prepandemic levels. The researchers suggest further study can help elucidate whether these trends may represent long-term changes for anatomy education.

 

Derek Harmon will present this research online in poster R2047 (abstract). Images available.

 

EB 2021 is the premiere annual meeting of five scientific societies to be held online April 27-30, 2021. Contact the media team for more information or to obtain a free press pass to attend the virtual meeting.

 

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About Experimental Biology 2021

Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of thousands of scientists from five host societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the U.S. and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. www.experimentalbiology.org #expbio

 

Find more news briefs and tipsheets at: https://www.eurekalert.org/meetings/eb/2021/newsroom/



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COVID-19 Pandemic Drinking: Increases Among Women, Black Adults, and People with Children
Research Society on Alcoholism

Risky drinking has been a public health concern in the U.S. for decades, but the significant increase in retail alcohol sales following COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders in particular raised red flags for alcohol researchers. New research has assessed changes in alcohol drinking patterns from before to after the enactment of stay-at-home orders. These results and others will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th - 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

13-Jun-2021 1:05 PM EDT
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Alcohol Consumption Is Far From ‘One Size Fits All’
Research Society on Alcoholism

An ongoing analysis of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol and related outcomes shows that COVID-related stressors experienced by study participants – including work-, financial-, and family-related stressors – are having a varied impact on individuals with and without alcohol use disorders (AUDs). These results will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th - 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Released: 18-Jun-2021 2:10 PM EDT
Newswise Expert Panels on COVID-19 Pandemic: Notable excerpts, quotes and videos available
Newswise

Newswise is hosting a series of Expert Panels discussion on unique aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This tip sheet includes some notable quotes from the panelists.

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Embargo will expire: 23-Jun-2021 8:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 18-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT

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Released: 18-Jun-2021 8:55 AM EDT
VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE: Vaccines and Male Fertility Event for June 17, 2021
Newswise

This upcoming JAMA-published study examined whether the COVID-19 vaccine impacts male fertility.

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Released: 18-Jun-2021 7:05 AM EDT
Teamwork saves lives: COVID-19 hospital network shares key findings to improve care
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Data sharing among 40 Michigan hospitals about the care and outcomes for thousands of inpatients with COVID-19 has led to reduced variation and findings that could inform care anywhere, including approaches for preventing blood clots and reducing overuse of antibiotics, as well as a risk prediction tool.

Released: 18-Jun-2021 7:05 AM EDT
One-third of older Americans delayed health care over COVID concerns
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Nearly one in three Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 put off an in-person appointment for medical care in 2020 because they were worried about exposure to the novel coronavirus, new national poll data show.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 4:15 PM EDT
UNC Researchers Lead Study of Diabetes Treatment of COVID-19 Patients
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Diabetes is one of the comorbidities most strongly associated with severe COVID-19 in the US, and data from early in the pandemic suggested individuals with type 2 diabetes faced twice the risk of death from COVID-19 and a greater risk of requiring hospitalization and intensive care. A new study shows best treatment options.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 4:10 PM EDT
Vaccination, Previous Infection, Protect Against COVID-19 gamma/P.1 Variant in Animal Model
University of Wisconsin-Madison

In a new study using variant virus recovered from one of the original travelers, researchers in the U.S. and Japan have found that vaccination with an mRNA vaccine induces antibody responses that would protect humans from infection with the gamma/P.1 variant.


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