Researchers identify a promising treatment for COVID-19 infection

An effective method for treating the coronavirus, which was responsible for the 2003 SARS epidemic, also works on the closely associated SARS-CoV-2 virus—the culprit responsible for causing the current COVID-19 pandemic, according to scientists from Uppsala University.

Researchers identify a promising treatment COVID-19 infection
Åke Lundkvist, professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology. Image Credit: Mikael Wallerstedt.

Nitric oxide (NO) is the substance involved. This compound has antiviral properties and is created by the body itself. The study has been published in the Redox Biology journal.

To our knowledge, nitric oxide is the only substance shown so far to have a direct effect on SARS-CoV-2.”

Åke Lundkvist, Study Lead and Professor, Uppsala University

But since no effective cure is available for COVID-19 to date, the main focus in the validated treatments has been on relieving symptoms. This approach can reduce hospital stays and decrease mortality. But so far, it has been impossible to demonstrate that any of these treatments has impacted the actual virus responsible for the infection.

NO is a compound that is naturally produced in the body. This compound has several functions, behaving like a hormone in regulating numerous organs; for instance, it controls tension in the blood vessels and regulates blood flow within and between organs.

In patients with acute failure, low concentrations of NO can be administered as inhaled gas to enhance the saturation level of blood and oxygen. During the 2003 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus epidemic, this therapy was successfully tested.

One major reason for the successful outcomes was that inflammation in the patients’ lungs reduced. This quality of nitric oxide—the protection it provides against infections, with its antiviral and antibacterial properties—is the very one that currently interests the team.

The researchers’ study further builds on a discovery about the coronavirus that was responsible for causing the first SARS epidemic. Earlier in 2003, the NO compound discharged from S-Nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine (SNAP) demonstrated to have a distinct antiviral effect.

Now, the research team from Uppsala University and Karolinska Institute has studied how the novel coronavirus involved in ongoing pandemic, SARS CoV-2, responds to the NO compound. And SNAP was demonstrated to have a distinct antiviral effect on this virus as well—and an effect that grew stronger with the increasing dose.

Until we get a vaccine that works, our hope is that inhalation of NO might be an effective form of treatment. The dosage and timing of starting treatment probably play an important part in the outcome, and now need to be explored as soon as possible.”

Åke Lundkvist, Study Lead and Professor, Uppsala University

Currently, the researchers have planned to continue their study by analyzing the antiviral effects of NO produced in gas form. To achieve this, they will build a model in the laboratory to safely replicate a plausible form of treatment for patients.

Source:
Journal reference:

Akaberia, D., et al. (2020) Mitigation of the replication of SARS-CoV-2 by nitric oxide in vitro. Redox Biology. doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2020.101734.

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