By Christina Fowler
In a previous edition of Gair Rhydd, in January, COVID-19 was summarised as a virus still contained to Wahun and the scientific community had no information of transmission, symptoms or a possible incubation period. Since then, science has dramatically increased our understanding and can now provide answers to many of these previously unanswerable questions.
Scientists all over the world have been researching COVID-19, in the hope of finding a cure and Cardiff University is no exception. For example, Dr Parker who was previously researching cancer at Cardiff University. Specifically, he was investigating how viruses can be manipulated to target cancerous cells. This research is now being repurposed to see if the viruses they have been studying can be used to encode coronavirus antigens (proteins on the outside of the cell that induce an immune response). This could be a way to produce a vaccine and protect the population against infection. Currently, they have been able to pinpoint a handful of potential viruses, which have been passed on to immunologists for testing.
Also, at Cardiff University, Professor Christoph Lee is working with Dr Ed Mullins from Imperial College London to understand how this coronavirus impacts pregnant women, from conception to post-delivery. Their aim is to create a pan-COVID database of women who are early on in their pregnancy and are also suspected, or confirmed, to have COVID-19. This research will help doctors better treat and prepare for the impacts COVID-19 could have on both the child and mother.
Further afield, Inovio Pharmaceuticals has just begun its phase 1 trial of a DNA vaccine for COVID-19 after partial positive results from a similar vaccine for MERS. Results of which will be eagerly awaited from the millions in lockdown. However, it is important to be aware that even if results from phase 1 show promise, further trials will need to be performed before it will be ready for testing on healthy individuals. A fact so often missed by the media is that vaccinating active COVID-19 patients is still many steps down the line.
Due to the lack of vaccines, many different researchers and governments have been looking at treatment options. After Donald Trump deemed chloroquine combined with azithromycin as a miracle cure, many people have been concerned over the safety and side effects of its use. In Brazil, a study supports these concerns after no significant benefits were found with the treatment. The study looked at high and low dose chloroquine and highlighted the safety concerns they had with this.
Despite the lack of treatment options, the large amount of data from COVID-19 patients is allowing scientists to better understand the disease and its spread. The New England Journal of Medicine looked at the large scale testing that occurred in Iceland and found that 43% of positive cases were asymptomatic. This was supported by a report in Nature medicine where the authors looked at 77 infector-infectee pairs and found that 44% of transmission was pre-symptomatic and estimated that infectivity occurs between 0 and 2 days of symptom onset.
This outbreak has not been easy for any member of the community, lockdown has taken its toll, but the scientific community can be a beacon of hope for many during these troubling times. The thought of our university being the source of crucial research needed to help patients worldwide, is not only a source of pride but also of comfort.