As scientists across the world continue efforts to find a cure for COVID-19, let us take a look at a brief roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the highly-contagious virus, which according to the World Health Organisation, is unlikely to be eradicated in the current situation.
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There are many "flavours" of COVID-19, according to new data that may someday allow coronavirus treatments to be targeted at the specific molecular changes making a person sick.
To learn more about why only some coronavirus patients become severely ill, researchers studied patients' "blood transcriptome," the complete set of genes that are activated in immune cells in the blood. They found at least five different types of the immune response against the coronavirus -- not just "mild" and "severe," according to a paper posted online ahead of peer review.
"In other words, there are different flavours of the disease," just as there are different types of cancer, study co-author Dr Joachim Schultze of the University of Bonn told Reuters.
Understanding the molecular mechanisms at work in a given patient could help doctors tailor the therapy to target those mechanisms, Schultze said.
The findings also helped his team predict which drugs would likely benefit COVID-19 patients. One "prominent" candidate cited was the steroid dexamethasone, which has already been proven effective in some COVID-19 patients.
Another "surprising" discovery they cited involved granulocytes, a type of white blood cell. "Granulocytes, cells that are not really known to be major players in the fight against viruses, play a major role in severe COVID-19 disease," Schultze said.
The new findings "will help us to find better therapies and also will guide vaccine development," he added.
TB vaccine may limit COVID-19 deaths
A tuberculosis vaccine routinely given to children in countries with high rates of that bacterial disease might be helping to reduce deaths from COVID-19, researchers reported on Thursday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
After accounting for differences in factors that might affect vulnerability to the virus - such as income, education, health services and age distribution - the researchers found that countries with higher rates of Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccinations for tuberculosis had lower peak mortality rates from COVID-19.
A good example was Germany, which had different vaccine plans before East Germany and West Germany were unified in 1990, the researchers said, Reuters reported.
COVID-19 mortality rates among senior citizens are nearly three times higher in western Germany than in eastern Germany, were more older people received the vaccine as infants, they found.
Study co-author Luis Escobar of Virginia Tech said in a press statement that BCG vaccines have been shown to protect against other viral respiratory illnesses. Escobar cautioned that the new findings are preliminary.
The BCG vaccine is currently being tested for preventing COVID-19 in healthcare workers.