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Could overactive immune cells contribute to Covid-19 deaths?

Friday April 17th, 2020

Medical researchers from across the globe are investigating if overactive immune cells that produce Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs) cause the most severe Covid-19 cases.

The NETwork consortium of 11 institutions say neutrophils detect bacteria and can expel their DNA to attack the bacteria with NETs, which can ensnare and digest the unwanted pathogen.

In cases of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), which patients can develop if they have severe Covid-19, NETs damage the lungs and other organs.

Dr Betsy Barnes, lead and co-corresponding author of the paper, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, and professor at the Feinstein Institutes, New York, USA, said: “Given the clear similarities between the clinical presentation of severe COVID-19 and other known diseases driven by NETs, such as ARDS, we propose that excess NETs may play a major role in the disease.

“As samples from patients become available, it will be important to determine whether the presence of NETs associates with disease severity and/or particular clinical characteristics of COVID-19."

Dr Jonathan Spicer, a clinician scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), Montreal, Canada, said as well as ARDS, patients with severe cases of Covid-19 can also suffer with airways that are clogged with thick mucus and they also tend to form small clots throughout their body at much higher rates than normal.

“NETs have also been found in the blood of patients with sepsis or cancer, where they can facilitate the formation of such blood clots,” he added.

If the findings from the NETwork consortium show that excess NETs cause the severe symptoms of COVID-19, it could lead to a new avenue of treatments to help COVID-19 patients.

Meanwhile an expert in Wales has warned of the risks of promoting the chemical chloroquine as a treatment.

The treatment, touted by President Trump and once used for malaria, is available in some countries as a fish-tank cleaner.

Professor Dyfrig Hughes, of Bangor University, has documented cases of poisoning from the chemical around the world. In Wuhan, China, a woman overdosed on the chemical in spite of not suffering from Covid-19 infection. He found three cases of overdose in Nigeria, including two deaths, and the case of a child in India who died after being administered an excessive dose.

Professor Hughes' laboratory studies point to diazepam and adrenaline, in combination, as improving cardiac function following poisoning by the chemical.

Hughes D. Acute chloroquine poisoning: A comprehensive experimental toxicology assessment of the role of diazepam. Authorea April 13, 2020

Tags: A&E | Flu & Viruses | North America | Pharmaceuticals | Respiratory | UK News

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