Clinical trials for Ayurvedic formulations against covid to be initiated in India, US

News Network
July 9, 2020

Washington, Jul 9: Ayurvedic practitioners and researchers in India and the US are planning to initiate joint clinical trials for Ayurveda formulations against the novel coronavirus, the Indian envoy here has said.

In a virtual interaction with a group of eminent Indian-American scientists, academicians, and doctors on Wednesday, Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said the vast network of institutional engagements have brought scientific communities between the two countries together in the fight against Covid-19.

 “Our Institutions have also been collaborating to promote Ayurveda through joint research, teaching and training programs. Ayurvedic practitioners and researchers in both the countries are planning to initiate joint clinical trials of Ayurvedic formulations against Covid-19,” Sandhu said.

“Our scientists have been exchanging knowledge and research resources on this front,” he said.

The Indo-US Science Technology Forum (IUSSTF) has always been instrumental in promoting excellence in science, technology, and innovation through collaborative activities.

To address Covid-19-related challenges, the IUSSTF had given a call to support joint research and start-up engagements. A large number of proposals are being reviewed on fast track mode by the experts on both the sides, he said.

“Indian pharmaceutical companies are global leaders in producing affordable low-cost medicines and vaccines and will play an important role in the fight against this pandemic,” Sandhu said.

According to the ambassador, there are at least three ongoing collaborations between Indian vaccine companies with US-based institutions.

These collaborations would be beneficial not just to India and the US, but also for the billions who would need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 across the world, he noted.

Asserting that innovation will be the key driver in pandemic response and recovery, he said tech-companies and start-ups have already begun to take the lead in this direction.

"Telemedicine and telehealth will evolve as will other digital platforms across sectors," he said.

Noting that there has been a longstanding collaboration between India and the US in the health sector, he said scientists have been working together in several programs to understand important diseases at the basic and clinical level.

Many such programs have been focused on translational research to develop new therapeutics and diagnostics.

There are over 200 ongoing NIH funded projects in India involving 20 institutions from NIH network and several eminent institutions in India engaged in a wide spectrum of research areas to create health care solutions, the senior diplomat said.

The collaboration under Vaccine Action Program (VAP) resulted in the development of ROTAVAC vaccine against rotavirus which causes severe diarrhea in children.

The vaccine was developed by an Indian company (Bharat Biotech) at an affordable cost. It has been commercialised and introduced in the Expanded Program on Immunisation.

Development of many other vaccines such as TB, Influenza, Chikungunya are also in progress under the VAP, he said.

 “As I speak, the VAP meeting is in progress where experts from both countries are deeply engaged in technical discussions to expedite development of Covid-19 vaccine,” Sandhu said in his remarks.

During the interaction, the eminent experts appreciated India's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and offered their valuable suggestions and best practices in this regard.

They shared their ideas on deepening the knowledge partnership between India and the US.

The experts who took part in the interaction, were drawn from wide-ranging fields including artificial intelligence, quantum information science, biomedical engineering, robotics, mechanical engineering, earth and ocean science, virology, physics, astrophysics, and health sciences.

Prominent among those who attended the virtual interaction were Subhash Kak Regents Professor at Oklahoma State University, Dr Vijay Kuchroo, Samuel L Wasserstrom Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, Dr Ashish M Kamat, Professor of Urology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Ashutosh Chilkoti, Alan L Kaganov Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University; and Prof Manu Prakash, a professor in Department of Bioengineering at Sandford University, among others.

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News Network
September 19,2020

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New Delhi, Sept 19: Scientists examined the effectiveness of common household fabrics used in homemade masks in blocking droplets generated by coughing and sneezing, and have found that they are considerably protective even as a single layer.

While earlier studies have focussed on the transfer of tiny, nanoscale aerosol particles through masks, the researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US said speaking, coughing, and sneezing generates larger droplets -- about one millimeter in diameter -- that can carry virus particles.

They said the larger droplets pose a problem as they can squeeze through the pores of some fabrics if they have sufficient momentum, and break into smaller droplets and become airborne.

In the study, published in the journal Extreme Mechanics Letters, the scientists filled the nozzle of an inhaler with distilled water seeded with easy-to-find ultrasmall fluorescent particles -- which happens to be the size of a novel coronavirus particle.

The inhaler forced the water through the nozzle when puffed, and generated high-momentum droplets that collected on a plastic dish placed in front of the inhaler, the study noted.

The researchers repeated this process with the various materials placed over the collection dishes to test their ability to block the particles.

"We count the number of nanoparticles landing on the dish using a high-resolution confocal microscope. We can then use the ratio of the number collected with and without the fabric to give us a measure of droplet-blocking efficiency," said study co-author Taher Saif.

However, the scientists said for an individual to feel compelled to wear a mask, the material must not only be able to block the droplets, but also be comfortable and breathable.

"A mask made out of a low-breathability fabric is not only uncomfortable, but can also result in leakage as the exhaled air is forced out around contours of a face, defeating the purpose of the mask and providing a false sense of protection," Saif said.

"Our goal is to show that many common fabrics exploit the trade-off between breathability and efficiency of blocking droplets -- large and small," he added.

The scientists tested the breathability and droplet-blocking ability of 11 common household fabrics, including new and used garments, quilted cloths, bedsheets and dishcloth material, using a medical mask as a benchmark.

They then characterised the fabrics in terms of their construction, fiber content, weight, thread count, porosity and water-absorption rate.

Their analyses revealed that droplets leave the inhaler at about 17 metres per second (mps) while those released by speaking, coughing and sneezing have velocities within the range of 10 to 40 (mps).

"We found that all of the fabrics tested are considerably effective at blocking the 100 nanometer particles carried by high-velocity droplets similar to those that may be released by speaking, coughing and sneezing, even as a single layer," Saif said.

"With two or three layers, even the more permeable fabrics, such as T-shirt cloth, achieve droplet-blocking efficiency that is similar to that of a medical mask, while still maintaining comparable or better breathability," he added.

The researchers believe the new experimental platform may offer a way to test fabrics for their blocking efficiency against the small and larger droplets that are released as people breathe, or cough.

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Agencies
September 25,2020

A standard test that assesses blood cells can identify which patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 could face a high risk of becoming critical and die, say researchers.

"We wanted to help find ways to identify high-risk COVID patients as early and as easily as possible -- who are likely to become severely ill and which hospitalized patients are likely to get worse quickly," said study researcher John M Higgins from the Massachusetts General Hospital in the US.

Higgins noted that early reports from China indicated that the body's inflammatory response was extremely intense in some patients and very mild in others.

His own group's previous work revealed that certain changes in the numbers and types of blood cells during inflammation are associated with poor health outcomes in patients with diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

"We quickly re-focused our computational infrastructure towards the analysis of the Covid-19 patient cohort that was growing rapidly in the Boston area last spring," explained study first author Brody Foy from the Harvard Medical School.

Their analysis, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, included all adults diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infection and admitted to one of four hospitals in the Boston area between March 4 and April 28, 2020.

Before looking for complicated changes in circulating blood cells in the 1,641 patients included in the study, the scientists first searched for patterns using currently available blood tests that are routinely performed.

"We were surprised to find that one standard test that quantifies the variation in size of red blood cells -- called red cell distribution width, or RDW -- was highly correlated with patient mortality," the researchers wrote.

The correlation persisted when controlling for other identified risk factors like patient age, some other lab tests, and some pre-existing illnesses," they added.

Patients who had RDW values above the normal range when they were admitted to the hospital had a 2.7-times higher risk of dying, with a mortality rate of 31 per cent compared with 11 per cent in patients with normal RDW values.

Also, a subsequent increase in RDW after admission was associated with an even higher risk of dying, indicating that RDW could be tracked during hospitalization to help determine whether patients are responding to treatment or getting worse.

The investigators are currently seeking to uncover the mechanisms that cause RDW elevations in severe COVID-19 cases.

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Agencies
September 22,2020

Scientists have developed a new tool that mimics how the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19 enters and infects cells, an advance that could potentially speed up the search for treatments against the deadly disease.

The novel tool, described in the journal ACS Nano, is a fluorescent nanoparticle probe with the spike protein that is present on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which it uses to bind to human cells and enter them.

According to the researchers, including those from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) in the US, the probe could be used in tests to rapidly gauge the ability of therapeutics to block the actual virus from infecting human cells.

"Our goal is to create a screening system to find compounds that block SARS-CoV-2 from binding to cells and infecting them," explained Kirill Gorshkov, a co-author of the study from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in the US.

Since using the actual virus in such screening studies would be difficult and require special facilities, the scientists said they used nanoparticles to mimic the viral function of binding to and invading the host human cell.

"We at NRL are experts in nanoparticles, and the NCATS researchers are experts in drug screening using cellular systems. So, it was the perfect match," explained Eunkeu Oh, another co-author of the study from NRL.

To create the probe, the scientists built an ultrasmall fluorescent particle called a quantum dot, fashioned from cadmium and selenium.

According to the researchers, these particles are at around 10 nanometers in size, which makes them 3,000 times smaller than the width of a single human hair.

They studded the quantum dots' surfaces with a section of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein which binds to ACE2 -- a human cell surface protein.

The study noted that the first step in the pathway to novel coronavirus infection is the union of the spike protein with ACE2.

The scientists could track the dots' behaviour under a microscope based on their fluorescent glow.

"Because they're such bright fluorescent objects, the quantum dots give us a powerful system to track viral attachment and effects on the cell in real time," Gorshkov said.

The researchers observed how the nanoparticle probes attach to ACE2 in a lung cell line commonly used in coronavirus assays.

According to the scientists, the probes were not toxic to the test cells at the concentrations and exposure times used in the study.

While the quantum dots followed the SARS-CoV-2 pathway into cells, they said the probes also mimicked the virus in the presence of antibodies, which are proteins made by the immune system that can specifically neutralise invading foreign agents like viruses.

The study noted that the antibodies were potent inhibitors of the quantum dot probes as well, preventing them from binding to ACE2 and entering human cells.

Based on the observation, the researchers said the quantum dot probes could help rapidly test the ability of potential therapeutic agents to block the virus from entering and infecting cells.

They said assays using the probes could also determine the concentrations at which potential treatments may safely and effectively block infection.

"Using the quantum dots, we could create tests to use in drug screening and drug repurposing, using libraries of compounds that have activity but that also are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration," Gorshkov said.

"Such assays could rapidly identify promising, safe treatments for COVID-19," he added.

The scientists believe the probe's flexible design can allow researchers to swap in spikes that bind to other receptors as well since ACE2 may not be the only protein SARS-CoV-2 targets.

According to the researchers, the probe could also be used to test how mutations in the spike change the way the virus behaves by adding mutated spikes to the quantum dots.

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