Friday, September 18, 2020

Coronavirus no longer dominates the news.  On May 4 I did a survey of two major newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times. In a “normal” election year May is the start of the slow time between the primaries and the conventions that I like to call the doldrums.  At that time about 75% of the news stories concerned the pandemic.  COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. But is it as newsworthy now?

Nope. Right now it’s background noise. There was a summer surge in cases, followed by a rush of articles on schools and college reopenings. But yesterday, out of a total of 111 articles in both papers, only 17 % were about COVID-19.

Articles 9/17/20WSJLATTotal%

These are two very different papers. One conservative, one liberal. WSJ emphasizes economy and finance, while the LA Times looks at California issues such as politics, sports, and, right now, the fires.

But they agree on how much space to allot to COVID. May 4: 75% and September 17: 17%.

Why? Yes, the election news is heating up, demoting the coronavirus, for the moment, into just another issue. And perhaps we’re getting brain-numb from repetitive discussions on masks, school re-opening, and hypothetical vaccine schedules. Important as epidemiologists are, the most important news right now–the news that will enable us to return to normal lives–is in the lab. Significant progress is being made, even though it isn’t yet clear where the game-changers lie. But we know where to find them

For example:

  1. The coronavirus is more strongly attracted to heparan sulfate on the surface of cells in the lungs than to the ACE2. This opens up several possibilities for diverting the virus from entering lung cells, such as using heparin, a well-known anticoagulant and a form of heparan sulfate. The study is led by Jeffrey Esko, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UCSD. Good work UC San Diego! (If you find the terms heparin and heparan confusing, look them up and see if you agree with me that the title of the news article uses the wrong one.)
  2. For some studies you need to culture live virus. The Mayo Clinic Emerging Virus Program is doing just this under the leadership of virologist Hideki Ebihara, Ph.D. With live virus you can learn the virus’ life cycle, spot its weaknesses and figure out just how it interacts with host cells, how long it lives on surfaces, how it causes disease on the molecular level, and what roadblocks can we put up?
  3. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have isolated a tiny molecular fragment of an immunoglobulin which specifically neutralizes the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This molecular component is called Ab8 and has been licensed by Abound Bio for development in 2021 as a treatment for COVID-19. It’s not a vaccine, but it’s a powerful little antibody and its small size makes it especially promising for stopping the virus up front from attaching to human cells. Research is led by Dimiter Dimitrov, PhD, a specialist in antibody therapeutics.

And the exciting new is there’s more. Research projects like these are tomorrow’s headlines. Just wait a few months.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“SARS-CoV-2 Spike Is Primed by Cellular Heparin [sic] Sulfate to Bind ACE2,” Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, Sept. 15, 2020 https://www.genengnews.com/news/sars-cov-2-spike-is-primed-by-cellular-heparin-sulfate-to-bind-ace2/

“COVID-19 “Live” Virus Research In a Specialized Lab,” Discovery’s Edge: Mayo Clinic’s Research Magazine, July 2020. https://discoverysedge.mayo.edu/2020/07/30/covid-19-live-virus-research-in-a-specialized-lab/

“Human testing for new COVID-19 treatment developed by Pitt researchers planned for 2021,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 16, 2020. https://www.post-gazette.com/business/healthcare-business/2020/09/15/human-testing-Ab8-COVID-19-UPMC-Pitt-research-antibody-vaccine/stories/202009150155

“Coronavirus: London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks cancelled,” BBC, Sept. 18, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-54204929

Related Articles

“SARS-CoV-2 Infection Depends on Cellular Heparan Sulfate and ACE2,” Cell, September 14, 2020. https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)31230-7#%20

“Tiny antibody component highly effective against SARS-COV-2 in animal studies,” Science Daily, Sept. 14, 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/09/200914090710.htm

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the events of these days from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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