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How sick will the coronavirus make you? The answer may be in your genes – Science Magazine

A patient in Italy receives intensive care for COVID-19. Human geneticists are coming together to look for genes that make some people more vulnerable to the disease.

By Jocelyn KaiserMar. 27, 2020 , 3:25 PM

Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

COVID-19, caused by the new pandemic coronavirus, is strangelyand tragicallyselective. Only some infected people get sick, and although most of the critically ill are elderly or have complicating problems such as heart disease, some killed by the disease are previously healthy and even relatively young. Researchers are now gearing up to scour the patients genomes for DNA variations that explain this mystery. The findings could be used to identify those most at risk of serious illness and those who might be protected, and they might also guide the search for new treatments.

The projects range from ongoing studies with DNA for many thousands of participants, some now getting infected with the coronavirus, to new efforts that are collecting DNA from COVID-19 patients in hard-hit places such as Italy. The goal is to compare the DNA of people who have serious cases of COVID-19 (which stands for coronavirus disease 2019)but no underlying disease like diabetes, heart or lung diseasewith those with mild or no disease. We see huge differences in clinical outcomes and across countries. How much of that is explained by genetic susceptibility is a very open question, says geneticist Andrea Ganna of the University of Helsinkis Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM).

Its hard to predict what will pop out from these gene hunts, some researchers say. But there are obvious suspects, such as the gene coding for the cell surface protein angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which the coronavirus uses to enter airway cells. Variations in the ACE2 gene that alter the receptor could make it easier or harder for the virus to get into cells, says immunologist Philip Murphy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose lab identified a relatively common mutation in another human cell surface protein, CCR5, that makes some people highly resistant to HIV.

Ganna heads up a major effort to pool COVID-19 patients genetic data from around the world. The idea came quite spontaneously about 2 weeks ago when everyone was sitting at their computers watching this crisis, says Ganna, who is also affiliated with the Broad Institute, a U.S. genomic powerhouse.

He and FIMM Director Mark Daly quickly created a website for their project, the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, and reached out to colleagues who run large biobank studies that follow thousands of volunteers for years to look for links between their DNA and health. At least a dozen biobanks, mostly in Europe and the United States, have expressed interest in contributing COVID-19 data from participants who agreed to this. Among them are FinnGen, which has DNA samples and health data for 5% of the 5 millionperson Finnish population, and the 50,000-participant biobank at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The UK Biobank, one of worlds largest with DNA data for 500,000 participants, also plans to add COVID-19 health data from participants to its data set, the project tweeted this month. And the Icelandic company deCODE Genetics, which is helping test much of the nations population to see who is infected with the new coronavirus, has received government permission to add these data and any subsequent COVID-19 symptoms to its database, which contains genome and health data on half of Icelands 364,000 inhabitants, says its CEO Kri Stefnsson. We will do our best to contribute to figuring this out, Stefnsson says.

Another effort to identify protective or susceptibility DNA variants is the Personal Genome Project led by Harvard Universitys George Church, which recruits people willing to share their full genome, tissue samples, and health data for research. Earlier this month, it sent questionnaires to its thousands of participants, asking about their COVID-19 status. More than 600 in the United States responded within 48 hours. It seems that most people want to do their part, says Church, whose group isnt yet part of Gannas collaboration.

Other researchers working with Gannas initiative are recruiting COVID-19 patients directly within hospitals for such genomics studies. Italian geneticist Alessandra Renieri of the University of Siena expects at least 11 hospitals in the nation to give ethics approval for her team to collect DNA samples from willing patients. It is my opinion that [host] genetic differences are a key factor for susceptibility to severe acute pneumonia, Renieri says.

Pediatrics researcher Jean-Laurent Casanova at the Rockefeller University, who specializes in identifying rare genes that can make healthy young people susceptible to certain serious diseases, is drawing on a network of pediatricians around the world to look for the relatively few young people who develop COVID-19 serious enough to get admitted to intensive care. We study exclusively patients who were previously healthy and under 50, as their serious COVID-19 illness is more likely to have a genetic basis, he explains.

In addition to genetic variants of the ACE2 receptor, scientists want to see whether differences in the human leukocyte antigen genes, which influence the immune systems response to viruses and bacteria, affect disease severity. And some investigators want to follow up a finding, which a Chinese team reported in a preprint: that people with type O blood may be protected from the virus. Were trying to figure out if those findings are robust, says Stanford University human geneticist Manuel Rivas, who is contributing to Gannas initiative.

The catastrophic spread of the coronavirus should soon increase the number of COVID-19 patients available to these gene hunts. And that could speed findings. Ganna expects the first susceptibility genes could be identified within a couple of months.

With reporting by Elizabeth Pennisi.

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Heres How Coronavirus Tests Workand Who Offers Them – Scientific American

As the new coronavirus explodes in cities across the U.S., public health agencies and hospitals are making testingwhich was initially plagued by significant shortagesincreasingly available. And biotech companies are ramping up production of test kitsbut states are still struggling to meet demand.

COVID-19 testing is currently available in every U.S. state, as well as Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Tuesday, 92 U.S. public health laboratories had completed the CDCs verification process and were offering tests. The CDCs own labs have tested 4,654 specimens, and public health laboratories have tested 98,576. A New York Timesdatabase reports that at least 75,178 cases had been confirmed as positive by lab tests as of Thursday afternoon.

Testing availability varies by state. A sampling of state public health agencies in New York, California and Texas all referred Scientific Americans questions about such availability, as well as about where patients should go to get tested, to their respective coronavirus information pages. But the basic process is the same nationwide.

The first step in any coronavirus test is collecting a sample. Doing so involves placing a sterile swab at the back of a patients nasal passage, where it connects to the throat via the nasopharynx, for several seconds to absorb secretions. Scott Wesley Long, a clinical microbiologist who directs Houston Methodist Hospitals diagnostic microbiology lab, says the swab is thinless than three millimeters in diameter at its tip. Once you place it in the back of the throat, its uncomfortable, but you can still breathe and talk, he says. Its not as bad as it looks. After a sample is collected, the swab goes into a liquid-filled tube for transport.

Shortages of swabs and reagents for collection kits were among the several roadblocks that stymied public health agencies ability to perform widespread testing in recent weeks, according to David Harris, who directs the biorepository at the University of Arizona. Harris says the university produced 1,600 generic collection kits last weekend to distribute to local health providers free of charge to help fill the gap, adding that all such kits are pretty much the same. The university plans to produce thousands more until availability begins to meet demand.

Recently, two health start-ups began marketing at-home collection kits that they claimed would allow patients to take their own samples and send them to labs for testing. The Food and Drug Administration quickly issued a warning that no such tests have been authorized, and the companies halted sales of the kits, which had been priced at about $170 to $180 apiece.

To determine whether a nasopharyngeal sample is positive for the coronavirus, biotechnicians use a technique known as reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR. The World Health Organizations and CDCs test kits both use this method, as do all of the kits the latter has approved to date.

Theres a lot of hands-on work involved in performing RT-PCR tests, Long says. First, a technician extracts viral genetic material called RNAif it is presentfrom the sample and uses it to produce a complimentary strand of DNA that the RT-PCR technique amplifies, or makes thousands of copies of, to get a measurable result. The primary difference from one kit to another is which coronavirus genes each test targets. CDC-approved kits target regions on a gene that codes for the protein that makes the viruss nucleocapsid, an envelope that houses its RNA. The biotechnology companies Roche Diagnostics, LabCorp and Thermo Fisher Scientific are among the top suppliers of commercial coronavirus RT-PCR kits.

Stephanie Caccomo, a spokesperson for the FDA, says the positive predictive value, or likelihood a positive test result correctly reflects that a patient has COVID-19, depends on how widespread the disease isand that situation is changing quickly. Based on what is known about the pathophysiology of COVID-19, the data provided and our previous experience with respiratory pathogen tests, the false-positive rate for authorized tests is likely to be very low, and the true-positive rate is likely to be high, Caccomo says. However, performance characteristics are specific to each test. And there is a risk of a false-negative result if the sample is not taken correctly, says Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University. This possibility could explain why people recovering from the disease sometimes test negative initially and then positive later, he says.

Most RT-PCR tests take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to process, but the FDA recently began granting emergency use authorization (EUA) to rapid diagnostic PCR tests that manufacturers say can deliver results in less than an hour. The authorization allows medical devices that have not yet been approved by the agency to be used during public health emergencies. Caccomo says the FDA conducts rolling reviews of diagnostic-test-validation data provided by laboratories. This has enabled authorization of most EUA requests within a few days, she adds.

On Saturday Cepheid, a Silicon Valleybased molecular diagnostics company, said the FDA had granted it authorization for a COVID-19 test that can deliver results in about 45 minutes. And on Tuesday Mesa Biotech in San Diego announced it had received the go-ahead for a handheld test kit that Hong Cai, the companys CEO, says can deliver results at bedside in about half an hour. Cai says the tests will begin shipping this week to several hospitals and that her company has tens of thousands of units ready to go, adding that Mesa is planning to triple its production capacity.

Another approach relies on identifying antibodies to the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in a patients bloodstream to determine whether that person previously had COVID-19. Florian Krammer, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, recently developed one of these tests, which is described in a preprint study posted last week on medRxiv. This is not a test for [ongoing] infections, he says. It basically looks for antibodies after the fact, after you had an infection. Like other serological, or antibody-based, diagnostic assays, it uses an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which employs a portion of the target virus to find antibodies. Although serological tests are not useful for quickly identifying whether a patient currently has COVID-19, Krammer says they can help researchers understand how humans produce antibodies to the virus.

Patients with severe cases of COVID-19 may be able to be treated with blood plasma from people who have developed antibodies and are immune to the disease in what is effectively an antibody-transfer operation. But to do that, clinicians first have to screen donors to determine who has a strong immune response to the virus, Krammer says. His lab is currently running a serological assay to find potential plasma donors. On Tuesday the FDA approved the emergency use of plasma for critically ill coronavirus patients.

Additionally, serological tests can also help determine if a person has been infected whether or not the individual had symptomssomething an RNA test kit cannot do after the fact, because it only looks for the virus itself. That means serological tests could be used to survey a population to determine how widespread infection rates were. It also could allow public health agencies to figure out who is already immune to COVID-19. So if you would roll this out on a very wide scale, you could potentially identify everybody who is immune and then ask them to go back to their regular life and go back to work, Krammer says. This approach could be especially useful for health care providers who are working with COVID-19 patients. They might feel much more comfortable working with those patients, [knowing] that they can't get sick anymore, knowing that they cant pass on the virus to others, he says.

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Heres How Coronavirus Tests Workand Who Offers Them - Scientific American

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Abeona Therapeutics Stakeholder Letter in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic – Citybizlist Real Estate

NEW YORK and CLEVELAND, March 27, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges across all aspects of healthcare. Many institutions and their brave staff of providers are now focused on caring for patients stricken by the virus. We at Abeona are thankful for their sacrifices and efforts, and stand behind these healthcare institutions whose resources are focused on the greater good. We are dedicated to being a good global citizen in doing our part by following guidance from local health officials in New York, Cleveland, and Madrid, and where remote employees reside.

Above all, we will take every reasonable measure to ensure the safety of our patients and employees, while sustaining our business operations during this uncertain time. Abeona is fully focused on getting through the pandemic by working closely with our clinical trial sites to ensure that patient safety remains paramount.

Clinical DevelopmentWe remain committed to advancing our clinical programs, but recognize delays are inevitable in these uncertain times, especially as healthcare resources are justly redirected to those who need them most. We are continually assessing the dynamic situation and implementing plans to minimize disruption. We are also constantly reviewing these plans and associated processes and policies to ensure our patients and employees are safe, and continuity in our scaled back operations remains.

While the full impact on our clinical programs cannot be quantified at this point, what we do know is that all current clinical trial sites remain active. We can say with certainty that some sites have paused screening and delays are expected as the situation evolves globally. What we wont know for the foreseeable future is the long-term impact. However, we remain dedicated to communicating frequently and openly with our stakeholders as more information becomes available, including updates on material changes to prior guidance as we continue to follow applicable government, regulatory and institutional guidelines.

Business OperationsLooking inward, the safety of our employees is a top priority. We have instituted additional protective measures since news of COVID-19 broke, and we frequently assess and improve our safety practices and policies. Operations at our Cleveland manufacturing facility have been significantly scaled back to ensure that employees and those around them have the best chance to remain safe, and to accommodate reduced clinical development activities. Only employees deemed essential by senior management to maintaining the manufacturing operation are entering the facility and under strict safety protocols to mitigate their risk. More traditional means of risk mitigation including a global work from home policy and suspended business travel are also in place.

As we try to rationalize the unprecedented developments sweeping the globe, please be assured that Abeona is doing all it can to protect our patients, employees, and the communities around us. This includes company operations that underpin our aspirations to bring new medicines to patients in need.

Abeona is about great Science and great People, and its important we continue to do everything we can to preserve both.

We will get through this but only if we work together.

About Abeona Therapeutics

Abeona Therapeutics Inc. is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing gene and cell therapies for serious diseases. The Companys clinical programs include EB-101, its autologous, gene-corrected cell therapy for recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, as well as ABO-102 and ABO-101, novel AAV9-based gene therapies for Sanfilippo syndrome types A and B (MPS IIIA and MPS IIIB), respectively. The Companys portfolio of AAV9-based gene therapies also features ABO-202 and ABO-201 for CLN1 disease and CLN3 disease, respectively. Abeona has received numerous regulatory designations from the FDA and EMA for its pipeline candidates, including Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy designation for two candidates (EB-101 and ABO-102).

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The perfect virus: two gene tweaks that turned COVID-19 into a killer – Sydney Morning Herald

But this virus infected only bats, not humans. The researchers named it RaTG13 and then promptly forgot about it.

At the same time, other research groups noted these bat coronaviruses regularly seemed to jump from animals to humans, and posed a significant pandemic threat.

In 2013, in the province of Yunnan, about 2000 kilometres west of Wuhan, a horseshoe bat was caught in a trap.

And then ... the world moved on. We had bigger things to worry about than Chinese bat coronaviruses.

It is now clear we made a mistake.

The virus that is causing the first pandemic in 100 years it will likely kill millions before this is all over, and mean that life may never be the same again shares 96 per cent of its genetic code with RaTG13.

We have been monitoring these coronaviruses. Theyve been jumping species boundaries, says Professor Edward Holmes. We knew this was going to happen.


RaTG13, or another very similar bat virus, has managed to pick up two tiny genetic tweaks that turned it from a bat disease into a virus perfectly adapted to make humans sick.

Then it had the unbelievable misfortune to emerge in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.

Its got this beautifully adapted set of mutations, says Holmes. In his published work, he calls it a perfect epidemiological storm.

A crown of spikes

Holmes, a researcher based at the University of Sydney, is among the worlds leading experts on the genetics and evolution of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

He was on the team that first sequenced the genes of the virus from one of the first patients in Wuhan. The

ir article on the possible origins of the virus is now the most-publicised Nature study in the history of that venerable journal.

He has visited the Huanan seafood and wildlife market where the Wuhan outbreak began. He has visited caves in China, searching for bats so he can survey the viruses they contain.

CoV-2 is a coronavirus, just like SARS and MERS. These viruses get their name from how they look under a microscope: a tiny bubble of fat surrounded by a crown of spikes which are used to penetrate cells.

An electron-microscope image of the COVID-19 virus, isolated from the first Australian coronavirus case.Note the bubble in the centre surrounded by spikes.Credit:CSIRO

Animals have many different types of viruses. But coronaviruses seem uniquely able to jump from animal to human. They just have this ability, says Holmes. We dont know why.

The emergence of SARS in 2003, killing 774 people, should have been a warning: these viruses jumped, and when they did lots of humans died.

We should have started building broad-based vaccines and antivirals that target all coronaviruses.

Instead, SARS was defeated largely by enhanced hygiene measures. Several drugs and vaccine candidates for SARS were developed and then largely abandoned.

CSIRO comparative immunologist Michelle Baker. Credit:CSIRO

We have been completely complacent, says Dr Michelle Baker, the CSIROs leading bat virus researcher.

It gets really difficult to get funding when there is not an outbreak. People feel a sense of security. They dont feel its relevant anymore.

Why this virus?

The virus pulled from bats in 2013 could not infect humans. SARS-CoV-2 can. Why?

It appears that two tiny tweaks to the virus genetic code have made a huge difference.

CoV-2 wants to do two things: bind to a human cell and then get inside it. The virus binds to a cellular receptor think of them as little antennae that stick off the side of human cells called ACE2.

ACE2 receptors are designed to listen for signals that change our blood pressure. Fine adjustments to blood pressure are really important in our lungs, so our lung cells are covered in ACE2 receptors.

SARS was able to bind to ACE2. But small genetic changes mean CoV-2 binds almost perfectly, at least 10 times more tightly than SARS. Its beautifully adapted to do that, says Holmes.

But thats not enough. Once CoV-2 is stuck on a cell, it needs to get in. Thats where the second tweak comes in.

CoV-2 is covered in spikes. They act like tiny harpoons. The virus needs to stick to the cell and then fire a harpoon. The harpoon pulls the surface of the cell and the virus together, allowing them to fuse. Thats how the virus gets inside.

A 3D map of the virus's spike protein, which it uses to 'harpoon' human cells. Credit:Science

But you dont want the harpoon firing off randomly, says Professor Stephen Turner, head of microbiology at Monash University. You only want it to fire when its ready to infect the cell. If its going off too early or too late, the virus would not be able to infect us.

To trigger the harpoon at just the right time, viruses rely on human enzymes, little proteins in our blood. Some enzymes trigger the harpoon too early, others trigger it too late. Among the best enzyme triggers the one that fires the harpoon at exactly the right time is an enzyme called furin. Our bodies produce heaps of furin.

Basically, you can work out if a virus is going to be highly pathogenic or not if it is activated by furin, says Turner.

Bird flu is triggered by furin. We got lucky, though, because it wasnt very good at sticking to our cells. CoV-2 is great at sticking to our cells. And its triggered by furin, among the best triggers a virus can have.

The combination is what makes it so infectious, says Turner.

The birth of a virus

How does a bat virus pick up these tricks?

Bats live essentially symbiotic relationships with their viruses. The viruses dont want to kill the bats, because then theyd have nowhere to live.

When scientists test bats, they find lots of different viruses but at very low levels. Often its really difficult to find a virus in a bat, says Baker.

And these viruses are, in evolutionary terms, very stable. They dont change much. It is unlikely RaTG13 turned into SARS-CoV-2 within a bat, Baker says.

But things change when a bat virus jumps to another animal.

Heres one potential scenario.

RaTG13 has the ability to bind to ACE2. But it did not have the furin tweak which makes the virus so infectious.

It is possible RaTG13, or a similar virus, jumped from a bat into a pangolin a small, scaly anteater common to Asia and highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine.


Pangolins also have the ACE2 receptor, as do other animals like ferrets.

Either of these animals, or many others, could have been the middle animal between bats and humans.But in this particular origin story, the pangolin was infected at the same time with another bat coronavirus. This virus possessed the furin tweak.

When two viruses infect the same host, they can recombine swapping their genes.

This may have created a virus that could both stick to ACE2 and use furin to quickly get inside human cells. That could have been how SARS-CoV-2 was born. Then it jumped to humans in the close confines of the Wuhan wet market.

An image of a bamboo rat caged on top of a deer allegedly sold at the Wuhan seafood market has circulated online. Credit:Weibo

And Wuhan is the perfect spot for a virus to jump. The city is home to millions. It is an international travel hub. The virus appeared just before the biggest travel period of the year: the Chinese Spring festival.

That story is neat. But it is no certainty. The first documented COVID-19 patient had no exposure to the wet market.

It is possible, although unlikely, this virus was circulating in humans for years before breaking out into a pandemic.

It could have spread silently, causing only mild cold-like symptoms, before suddenly acquiring a key mutation or two that made it much more contagious - and much more dangerous. You cannot rule that out, says Holmes.

Whether that market was involved or not, its really unclear at the moment. We may never answer that question.

We need to change the way we live

Holmes is shocked at how fast SARS-CoV-2 has spread. But hes not shocked it was a bat coronavirus that caused a worldwide pandemic.

Environmental damage, illegal wildlife trading (pangolins in particular are heavily traded), wet markets and the climate crisis are all combining to push humans and bats closer than ever before.

It is blindingly obvious that we as humans have to change the way we interact with the animal world. There is no doubt about that, he says. And its not the animals' fault.

Bats have been carrying these viruses for millennia. Its not them thats changed, its us the way we interact with them.

The whole world is now set up for a pandemic - we live in megacities, there is transport. Its an accident waiting to happen, and it happened.


When the world eventually starts to recover from the pandemic, steps need to be put in place to widen the gap between bats and humans so this cannot happen again, Holmes says.

We have to cut our exposure. Those markets have to go, he says. The illegal trade in wildlife has to end. We have to cut our exposure. Thats very very clear.

Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald's science reporter

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Patients with Severe Forms of Coronavirus Disease Could Offer Clues to Treatment – Howard Hughes Medical Institute

A new international project aims to enroll 500 COVID-19 patients to search for genetic mutations that make some people more vulnerable to severe infection.

HHMI scientists are joining many of their colleagues worldwide in working to combat the new coronavirus.Theyre developing diagnostic testing, understanding the viruss basic biology, modeling the epidemiology, and developing potential therapies or vaccines. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing stories of some of this work.

Hundreds of clinicians worldwide are banding together in an effort to study some types ofseverecases of the new coronavirus disease.

The project, led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator Jean-Laurent Casanova at The Rockefeller University, seeks to identify genetic errors that make some younger patients especially vulnerable to the virus that causes COVID-19, the infectious respiratory illness also known as coronavirus disease 2019.

Casanova aims to enroll 500 patients internationally who meet three broad criteria: theyre less than 50 years old, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted to an intensive care unit, and have no serious underlying illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease.

By studying these patients' DNA, scientists may pinpoint genetic mutations that make some people more susceptible to infection. Such information could one day help doctors identify people who are most at risk of developing severe coronavirus disease, says Casanova, a pediatrician at Rockefeller. It could also offer clues for scientists searching for new therapeutics. For example, if patients cells arent making enough of a particular molecule, doctors may be able to offer a supplement as treatment.

Were going to try to find the genetic basis of severe coronavirus infection in young people.

Jean-Laurent Casanova, HHMI Investigator at The Rockefeller University

That day may still be years away. This is not a short-term effort, Casanova says. Some scientists have hypothesized that COVID-19 might be a seasonal illness, with infections ebbing in the spring and summer, and then returning in the fall. But Casanovas team is optimistic. They have already begun enrolling patients and have started sequencing their exomes spelling out all of the DNA letters in every gene in a persons genome. Were going to try to find the genetic basis of severe coronavirus infection in young people.

Late last year, when the first coronavirus infections began cropping up in China, Casanova started reaching out to his colleagues there. Though the most severe cases seemed to concentrate among older adults and those with other conditions, Casanova was interested in the outliers kids and young adults hit hard by the illness who didnt have any of the usual risk factors, such as age or underlying illness.

His team kicked off a new project to study these mysterious cases, and in January just weeks after the Wuhan outbreak began enrolling patients. Clinicians mailed patient blood and DNA to his lab, and researchers there and elsewhere began processing samples the first steps needed for scientists to peer into patients genomes. Now, the project is global, and Casanova is collaborating with scientists and healthcare workers from Europe to Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

We will recruit children and adults <50 yo without risk factor admitted to ICU for idiopathic #COVID19. We will test the hypothesis that they carry inborn errors of immunity to this virus. Please refer patients to @casanova_lab and please RT.

Hunting for the genetic underpinnings of severe infectious diseases is nothing new for Casanovas team. What were doing with coronavirus is what my lab has been doing for 25 years with other infections, he says.

They look for weak spots in peoples immune systems small genetic changes that make people more vulnerable to disease. His group has previously searched the genomes of patients infected with viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even parasites. The infection closest to COVID-19 his team has studied is severe influenza pneumonitis, for which theyve discovered three genetic links. Theyve also identified specific genetic errors that can predispose patients with herpes to viral encephalitis. And theyve found that children with mutations in an immunity gene called IFN-gamma are vulnerable to the bacteria that cause tuberculosis. These children make low levels of the IFN-gamma protein, which is critical for fighting off bacterial infections.

Casanovas team has put these findings to use clinically. For example, the researchers have shown that tuberculosis patients with these genetic errors can benefit from treatment with IFN-gamma. Hes hoping to identify problematic genes in patients with severe coronavirus infection that can bring similar clinical gains. These genes could tell scientists which cellular defenses are crucial for warding off COVID-19 and pave the way for understanding whether such defenses are derailed in older adults or patients with an underlying medical condition.

In the US and around the world, severe coronavirus disease seems to hit older patients hardest, though scientists have reported some country-to-country variation. As of March 24, more than 44,000 confirmed and presumptive positive cases have been reported in the US. Fatality has been highest in people over 85 years old, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Though young people may be more susceptible than scientists once suspected,the older you are, the higher the likelihood you have a severe form of the disease, Casanova says.

Last week, Rockefeller closed all labs except those working on the coronavirus, and Casanova whittled his team to a skeleton crew of about eight people down from 35 who rotate so there is only one person per room at a time. He and his lab members are following CDC recommendations, and taking protective measures to keep themselves and others safe, including social distancing, washing hands, and disinfecting surfaces. Theyve also taken to Twitter to get the word out about their work. A tweet posted from Casanovas lab last week about recruiting new patients to their study has since been retweeted more than 400 times.

Soon, theyll be testing their genetic theory on a pandemic thats occurring in real time. Im grateful weve been able to start this new project so quickly, he says. God willing, it will be of clinical usein two or three years.

Follow the Casanova lab on Twitter (@casanova_lab) to learn the latest about their work. Doctors interested in enrolling patients in the study can contact Jean-Laurent Casanova at


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Clean your phone ‘at least once a day,’ medical experts say. Here’s howwithout damaging the screen – CNBC

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a spike in sales of products, includinghand sanitizer, toilet paper and pasta.

More than likely, however, there is no need to buy too much of anything, Dr. Amy Edwards, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals who works with the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health,tells Grow. "My advice would be to be vigilant, but calm, and not to panic."

To protect yourself from coronavirus, health professionals say the most important thing to do is wash your hands regularly. Don't forget to clean your phone regularly, too. "I clean my phone at least once a day," says Edwards. She advises others to do the same and many medical experts agree.

"It's often said that your phone is like a third hand because you're constantly touching it," says cleaning influencer Melissa Maker.

People take their phones out to eat, on the train, and to the bathroom. As a result, cellphones carry more than 17,000 bacterial gene copies each, according to a 2017 study. The report concluded that this "may play a role in the spread of infectious agents."

More from Grow:What to buy when your grocery store is out of pasta, beans, juiceHow a hairdresser plans to stretch her $4,000 savings while out of work3 smart ways to improve your finances while you're at home

Cleaning phones daily, at least, is smart, says Edwards."Certainly, if you are letting a lot of people use your phone, you would want to clean it to help prevent spread."

It's often said that your phone is like a third hand because you're constantly touching it.

Melissa Maker

Cleaning Influencer

If you want to clean your phone effectively, Maker says not to use a Lysolwipe or disinfectant wipe, as it may strip the coating of your phone over time. "The chemicals that are used in those disinfectant wipes are not meant to be used on electronics," she says.

Until recently, Apple advised against the use oftraditional cleaning products or compressed air.But earlier this month, Apple updated its instructions to say you can clean your phone with disinfectant wipes, as long as you wipe gently and avoid getting any liquid in charging ports.

GuidelinesforAndroidhandsets still advise steering clear of disinfectant wipes.

One alternative: Cleaning wipes that are specifically made for electronic devices. A 210-pack of individually wrapped lens- and screen-cleaning wipes is $16.99 on Amazon right now.

Maker suggests using a microfiber cloth. "Microfiber has the ability to pick up bacteria," Makers says. "Then you can launder the microfiber cloth."A six-pack of microfiber cleaning clothes is $9.99 on Amazon right now.

A damp microfiber cloth can remove microorganisms including viruses and bacteria and is more effective than a cotton rag, microbiologist Kristen Gibson told the The Wall Street Journal. It won't damage your phone the way a Lysol wipe might, either.

You can also pair onewith a homemade cleaner that is equal parts water and rubbing alcohol. Dip the cloth in the mixture, make sure it's not excessively wet, and then wipe down all parts ofyour phone. This will serve as an effective disinfectant.

And, of course, make sure you frequently wash your hands.

The article Clean Your Phone At Least Once a Day, Says Infectious Disease Specialist originally appeared on Grow by Acorns + CNBC.

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Clean your phone 'at least once a day,' medical experts say. Here's howwithout damaging the screen - CNBC

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