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Moving toward a treatment for COVID-19

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues scientists are continuing to research potential treatments for the virus.

Dr. Mathew Devine, the Medical Director at Highland Family Medicine, discussed how COVID-19 impacts our bodies and what researchers are learning about possible treatments Tuesday during News 8 at Sunrise.

“When a pathogen enters the human body it triggers local alarms that signal the immune system to take action and destroy the unknown entity,” Dr. Devine said. “This happens whether it is a virus, bacterium, or other types of microorganisms. This process happens with the novel coronavirus. Some immune responses are better and more efficient than others, and that is why some people experience a milder version of the disease and some have no symptoms at all. Other immune systems will react slower, so the virus will replicate with ease inside the lungs and cause all sorts of life-threatening complications. Then there’s always the overdrive response from the immune system that does more harm than good and can also result in death.”

Dr. Devine explained that researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio identified what could be a vital element of SARS-CoV-2 behavior. The virus has a way of camouflaging itself once inside the cell to avoid detection. This does not always happen, but this could explain what makes the new virus so dangerous and why some patients have a harder time getting rid of it. The researchers published their work in Nature, explaining the camouflage technique that allows the virus to escape an immediate response. This research group identified an enzyme called Non-structural protein (nsp)16 that the virus produces and then uses to modify its RNA cap. Once the virus binds to cells, it uses its RNA to instruct those cells to mass-produce thousands of virus copies. The cell is destroyed in the process and the new copies can infect other cells. The immune system would block some of them and would destroy infected cells as well. This happens at the cellular level, and it’s a critical process that affects the recovery of patients.

“The discovery could be significant for future antiviral drug development,” Dr. Devine said. “New meds could target the nsp16 enzyme and prevent it from making any changes. As a result, the immune system would recognize the virus faster and begin to combat it sooner. These drugs would be different than a vaccine but could speed up patient recovery. As with any COVID-19 research, the work could benefit from future studies, while clinical trials would be needed to test the efficacy of any new molecule designed to inhibit the nsp16 enzyme.”

Dr. Devine concluded that as our area continues to have success with social distancing, masking, and frequent hand hygiene, the virus is surging in other parts of the country we need to continue to work on findings ways to lessen the effects of COVID-19 as we work on finding a vaccine that can help put a definitive end to the pandemic.

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