Saturday, July 10, 2021

With headlines that emphasize the numbers of variants, vaccinations, and cases, sometimes we forget that COVID-19 is first and foremost a disease. But behind the scenes investigators are learning more and more about how this new coronavirus affects the body. Here are three sources I’ve found for news that goes beyond numbers:

  1. Nature portfolio, https://www.nature.com/subjects/sars-cov-2
  2. National Institutes of Health COVID-19 Research, News and Stories https://covid19.nih.gov/news-and-stories#news-from-across-nih-1
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Updates https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/coronavirus/coronavirus-research/index.html

What can you find here? Information about ongoing research and findings summarized in articles that are not too technical. They usually have links to the original article in case you want to dig deeper.

Here are a few examples of current research. Links to the articles are below.

  • COVID and the Genome: We’re learning a lot about the coronavirus genome, but what about OUR genome? Research on the human genome indicates that people with particular genes are more likely to develop serious COVID. A meta-analysis of 46 different studies from academic and private laboratories (such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA) has found 13 human genetic variants that are associated with increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Some of the genes are related to lung function and the immune response. Understanding how the disease interacts with human variations may help in evaluating risk, prevention, and treatment. (Nature)
  • COVID and the Brain: For months we’ve been hearing about the neurological effects of coronavirus which can last long after the infection is over–effects like short-term memory loss, confusion, depression, and fatigue. A recent study of brain images from people before and after they had COVID showed that there was a decrease of gray matter in the cerebral cortex after the COVID infection. New studies reveal several mechanisms by which a coronavirus infection can injure the brain. One study shows that the virus preferentially attacks supportive brain cells called astrocytes. Another study shows how SARS-CoV-2 can restrict blood flow to the brain by constricting capillaries. Still another shows that the patient’s own autoantibodies can cause neurological damage. Understanding these mechanisms along with other ways COVID-19 can affect the brain will help point the way to prevention. (Nature)
NIH Director’s Blog

  • COVID Immunity: Is COVID immunity from a vaccination different from COVID immunity resulting from a COVID infection? Immunity from an mRNA vaccine targets a broader range of genetic variants in the spike protein than immunity from a natural infection. Research is continuing to study why this is the case, but the evidence indicates that people who have had COVID have a more specific type of immunity and should still be vaccinated. (NIH).
  • COVID Rehab: Rehabilitation medicine has a new challenge in treating patients recovering from COVID-19 who still have physical, mental, or cognitive damage. Out of 900 patients with COVID-19 admitted to The Johns Hopkins Hospital, 60% to 70% required care from the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department, requiring an allocation of more space dedicated to rehabilitation. (Johns Hopkins)

Each of these sources has many more articles on current research advances in care of COVID-19 patients. With about 15 months of experience in the treatment of this disease, we have a much deeper and more nuanced understanding than we did last year. But you have to look deeper than the daily news to find it.

Johns Hopkins

Today’s Notable Articles

“L.A. County has more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases in a day, highest in months,” Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2021. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-07-10/la-county-1000-coronavirus-cases-day-highest-in-months

“The quest to find genes that drive severe COVID,” Nature, July 8, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01827-w?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=7ecba51a80-briefing-dy-20210709&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-7ecba51a80-45876550

“COVID and the brain: researchers zero in on how damage occurs,” Nature, July 7, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01693-6?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=7ecba51a80-briefing-dy-20210709&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-7ecba51a80-45876550

“How Immunity Generated from COVID-19 Vaccines Differs from an Infection,” NIH.gov, Blog Home, Director’s Album. June 22, 2021. https://directorsblog.nih.gov/2021/06/22/how-immunity-generated-from-covid-19-vaccines-differs-from-an-infection/

“Like Polio, COVID-19 Underscores the Importance of Rehab Medicine,” Johns Hopkins, Dec. 14, 2020. https://clinicalconnection.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/like-polio-covid-19-underscores-the-importance-of-rehab-medicine

Source Articles

“Mapping the human genetic architecture of COVID-19,” Nature, July 8, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03767-x.epdf?sharing_token=O3lTySYNWMsmDdcDnT-O3dRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0NjkWe1CHC25uAipU9tUQ3wi_2S_Y7rRWs0mWrQciDs-EOrQ990sWxMt94ewlN7OWosGCQDPHth4ObYUVLYLXntTgnF2CH4rm9tuswnsfMPoHt68bN7HlmEFgUG_0EDbB0%3D

“Brain imaging before and after COVID-19 in UK Biobank,” MedRxiv, June 20, 2021. (preprint). https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.06.11.21258690v2

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. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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