Solving COVID: June 24, 2020

Summer Meza
A doctor.
Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock
Our 'Solving COVID' newsletter is a weekly roundup of the latest scientific advancements being made against the coronavirus pandemic. It tracks developments in testing, treating, and vaccinating. To receive the newsletter every week, please enter your email below:

1.

Researchers hit 'significant milestone' after safely delivering first dose of coronavirus vaccine

Imperial College London has "reached a significant milestone" after delivering a small dose of its coronavirus vaccine candidate to the first healthy volunteer in its trial. So far, all has gone according to plan. The clinical team is closely monitoring the participant's health, which remains in good condition, and there are no safety concerns. This particular vaccine candidate stands out because it's based on a new self-amplifying RNA technology, which has never before been involved in human trials. If it proves safe and effective, Imperial College believes it could revolutionize — and reduce the cost of — vaccine development, allowing scientists to take on emerging diseases like COVID-19 more quickly in the future. After the initial volunteer receives a booster shot, several others will enter the trial to further assess the vaccine's safety and find the right dosage before researchers administer doses to 300 healthy volunteers. If that goes well, larger trials will take place throughout the year. [Imperial College London]

2.

MMR vaccine could boost immunity and mitigate coronavirus effects, researchers suggest

Researchers in Louisiana are looking into whether the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine — commonly known as MMR — could encourage resistance to the coronavirus. As a live vaccine, the MMR booster gives people weakened versions of viruses to build immunity to them. But the vaccine also stimulates a broader immune response. As Paul Fidel of Louisiana State University and Mairi Noverr of Tulane University write in the medical journal mBio, "mounting evidence" suggests live vaccines "provide nonspecific protection against lethal infections" as a whole — COVID-19 included. Specifically, they're hoping the strategy could mitigate the worst lung inflammation associated with the coronavirus. The best part? "I call it no harm, no foul," Fidel says. If their research proves their hypothesis, these scientists will have discovered a groundbreaking and widely available preventative measure against COVID-19. "But if we're wrong — and we could be wrong — OK, you've got new antibodies to measles, mumps, and rubella," Fidel said. [CNN, CTV News]

3.

Trial of saliva-based COVID-19 test to determine if 'routine, at-home testing' finds cases earlier

More than 14,000 people in the U.K. will participate in a weekly trial of a "no-swab" saliva test for COVID-19, British officials announced. "Saliva testing could potentially make it even easier for people to take coronavirus tests at home, without having to use swabs," Health Secretary Matt Hancock explained of the Southampton-based study. "This trial will also help us learn if routine, at-home testing could pick up cases of the virus earlier." The trial will be run by the National Health Service, the Southampton City Council, and the University of Southampton, involving doctors and health workers, university staff, essential workers, and their households. Unlike the swab-based tests, which are uncomfortable and require special swabs, the Optigene test initially used in this trial requires only that people spit into a pot. Results are expected to be handed back within 48 hours. [Reuters]

4.

Lying face-down could improve breathing in severe coronavirus cases, studies suggest

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, doctors have reported success in treating patients who were having trouble breathing by shifting them into prone — or face-down — position. Two recent small studies appear to back up their intuitions. One study found that out of 25 non-intubated COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory symptoms in New York City who spent at least one waking hour in prone position, 19 saw their oxygen saturation improve to 95 percent or greater, lowering the risk of more invasive ventilation methods. A similar study monitored 56 patients with COVID-19-related pneumonia in Manza, Italy, 47 of whom were able to be repositioned. Researchers found that prone positioning was "feasible and effective in ameliorating blood oxygenation in awake patients." Upon returning to a supine, or face-up position, 23 of those patients maintained their improved breathing. Both studies acknowledge the hypothesis warrants further examination, but coupled with the anecdotal success, researchers suggest repositioning could be a simple, safe, and useful mitigation method. [JAMA Internal Medicine, The Lancet]

5.

NBA to help Yale researchers study a saliva-based coronavirus testing method

National Basketball Association players, coaches, and staffers will help Yale researchers study SalivaDirect, a saliva-based COVID-19 testing method. Yale School of Public Health researchers expect results from the study by the end of July. As opposed to the nasopharyngeal swabbing method used to test for COVID-19, only a small sample of saliva is needed for the "non-invasive" SalivaDirect method, and it "reduces testing times by over an hour," as well as "costs less, requires minimal training, and exposes health care workers to less or no risk," a Yale statement noted. The National Basketball Players Association's chief medical officer, Joe Rogowski, said this partnership not only gives NBA players an alternative testing method, it allows them "to make a larger contribution to public health in the fight against this virus." Yale is aiming to have the SalivaDirect testing method approved by the FDA for use among the general public "as soon as mid-July." [Yale School of Public Health]