New Study Shows ‘Nanosponges’ May Help Neutralize the Coronavirus


A new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nano Letters showed that cellular nanosponges may be able to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infectivity within the body, ultimately neutralizing the virus.

These microscopic “sponges” are a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair. When they enter the body, they are coated with membranes from lung cells or immune cells, known as macrophages. These cell membranes have receptor proteins on their surfaces that the virus utilizes to “break into” cells.

In test tube experiments, the scientists found that the nanosponges were successful in acting as decoys to attract and inactivate the virus within the body. Liangfang Zhang of the University of California, co-leader of the study, told Reuters that theoretically, these nanosponges should work everywhere within the body. That being said, the scientists acknowledge that this is not the ultimate, long-term cure for the novel coronavirus by any means.

“As a novel virus causing the current global pandemic, new information regarding SARS-CoV-2 is emerging on a daily basis,” the researchers wrote in their study. “Since the first case that was reported at the end of 2019, it has been shown that the virus is mutating at a rapid rate. This rapid rate of mutation will pose a major challenge to the development of therapeutics and preventive measures.”

Another treatment option for the coronavirus that has been causing a stir as of late is a drug called dexamethasone. Earlier in June, a press release documenting the use of dexamethasone for the treatment of COVID-19 made headlines when it appeared that the product could reduce deaths linked to the virus.

The RECOVERY trial took place in March of this year and was established as a randomized clinical trial to test a wide range of potential treatment options for the coronavirus. Dexamethasone, a steroid treatment, was one of those options.

A total of 2,104 patients were randomized to receive dexamethasone 6 mg once per day for ten days. They were compared to 4,321 patients who were randomized to receive usual care alone. By the end of the RECOVERY trial, data suggested that dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and by one-fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only. Based on the results, one death could potentially be prevented by treatment of around eight ventilated patients, or around 25 patients receiving oxygen alone.

“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19,” said Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and chief investigator for the trial. “This is an extremely welcome result. The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”

Other treatment options that were explored in the RECOVERY trial included hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and tocilizumab. The researchers noted that although dexamethasone showed promise in certain patients, there was no evidence of benefit among patients who did not require oxygen. That being said, the trial’s lead authors still see promise for the drug.

“Since the appearance of COVID-19 six months ago, the search has been on for treatments that can improve survival, particularly in the sickest patients,” said Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, and chief investigator of the trial. “These preliminary results from the RECOVERY trial are very clear – dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patients with severe respiratory complications. COVID-19 is a global disease – it is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide.”

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