BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: pandemic

Antibody Concoctions: Possible COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment?

We all have heard the exciting news about Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine: a possible savior and source of hope for years to come. According to a LiveScience article by Nicoletta Lanese, “an antibody cocktail designed to prevent and treat COVID-19” entered late-stage trials over the summer. Scientists have been working to find an effective treatment that doesn’t have as many limitations as current findings. A treatment known as convalescent plasma therapy has been circulating clinical trials. It is not FDA-approved and therefore not available to the public. Antibodies are extracted from recovered COVID-19 patients and injected into sick patients in order to boost their immune systems. This method is too unreliable and unpredictable.  The plasma donors all have a variety of antibodies. Some have proven to be effective against the virus by not letting it enter cells in the first place. On the other hand, nothing is guaranteed and a patient could be injected with antibodies that have no effect against the virus. To reduce this risk, drug developers have noted the effective antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and mass produced them in a lab.

This is a representation of what a spike protein would be under a microscope. The clinical trials are testing to see which antibodies can bind to the spike proteins and prevent them from entering/infecting healthy cells.

Another possible therapy called REGN-COV2 has also entered a late phase in its clinical trial. It supposedly has two antibodies that can prevent the virus from infecting healthy cells by binding to the spike protein. Hopefully the FDA approves the drug at the end of its current phase (phase 3), so short and long-term effects can be monitored. The Co-Founder, President, and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron, Dr. George Yancopoulos, released this statement: “We are running simultaneous adaptive trials in order to move as quickly as possible to provide a potential solution to prevent and treat COVID-19 infections, even in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic.” Many other pharmaceutical companies continue with their trials to search for antibody treatments against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The universal goal is to find a longer-term solution and stop the rising mortality count.

I originally chose the topic of prevention, because I thought it was only going to include mask-wearing and social distancing. It’s incredibly interesting that this article is another scientific take on preventative measures. The article shows how hard scientists and companies are working on developing a treatment. My main intention for this topic was to show how important it is for everyone to partake in the effort to stunt the spread of the pandemic. With recommended safety procedures as well as current trials, I’m optimistic that there will be great progress in our near future. I was able to link this to our AP Biology class, because we recently covered the immune system! The article refers to antibodies, and I know that they are the humoral defenses that go for pathogens. These antibodies are originally secreted from B-Plasma cells in order to bind to and neutralize the pathogens. By using plasma from recovered patients, I assume they are relying on the B-Memory cells to prevent infection/re-infection in other patients.

Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments! How much longer do you think we’ll have to wait? Do these new updates give you hope about returning to a state of normalcy? I’d love to know.

UPDATE

Since the summer of 2020 (when this article was released), a lot has changed. Regeneron’s antibody cocktail was granted an Emergency Use Authorization in November. While this seemed to be heading the trials towards an optimistic future, that was not the case. Presently, only the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines are FDA-approved for public use. What happened to REGN-COV2? According to this Washington Post article, 80% of the allocated dosage supply is remaining unused in overcrowded hospitals. There is a common sentiment that resources should not be going towards an “unproven treatment”. The only FDA-approved antibody in the Regeneron cocktail is bamlanivimab. Although we are all eager to return to normalcy, we must be conscious of what is the best for our health.

Protection by Different Face Masks

During the time of the Covid-19 pandemic we know that it is important to wear masks, but which ones? Different masks hold uniqueness, but ultimately are all used to protect you from airborne pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, that your immune system would need help fighting. 

Although, the best way to prevent contracting Covid-19 is to isolation and social distancing, when in public settings it is important to have a face covering. One of the most common face covers that you will see are surgical masks. Surgical masks  are disposable, loose-fitting face covering that provide a separation between the nose and mouth with harmful particles that may be present in the surrounding air. When used properly, as stated by the FDA in an article named N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, and Face Masks, “a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also help reduce exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others”. However, surgical masks have flaws, very small particles do not get filtered or blocked that you could be exposed by coughing, sneezing, or medical procedures. They are only designed for one use and can become damaged. As for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Covid-19, they do not completely block the virus from getting through, rather, reduce the magnitude that can pass through. Also, because of its loose-fitting design, there is a higher risk of harmful particles getting past the mask barrier through the open slots. Ultimately, surgical masks are one model of masks used to protect yourself from harmful particles in the air. 

 

Another type of mask seen throughout the pandemic is an N95 respirator. These face coverings, constructed with many layers of protection, are also used to protect you body from consuming harmful particles, but are designed with a more secure fit and effective filtration system, “that are tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency (particulate filtration efficiency and bacterial filtration efficiency, flammability and biocompatibility”.  Many people tend to feel more secure with a N95 respiratory mask because it also accommodates coating technologies to reduce or kill microorganisms. However, people with chronic respiratory, cardiac, or other medical conditions may have a more difficulty breathing with this mask and they are classified as single use to ensure maximum protection.

Lastly, another commonly seen mask are cloth masks. These masks are common due to its easy accessibility and their generally patterned designs. However, as stated by the CDC, these masks do not provide filtration as well as surgical masks or other respirators. Although they provide adequate protection from the virus, they are not permitted to be worn my healthcare workers. Ultimately, in the communal setting cloth face masks allow protection, when worn properly of course, and their protection level can vary depending on material, number of layers, design, etc., but surgical mask and respirators overall considered more protective.

 

Overall, the surgical mask and N95 respirator are two commonly found face covering that will give you protection against the pandemic. It is important to keep in mind that although our immune system provides us with innate immunity, a defense that is active immediately upon infections, and adaptive immunity, an acquired immunity of typically a slow response. Because adaptive immunity is a slower response, for the Covid-19 virus, it is typical to take around two weeks for your body to develop antigens. That being said, masks are a significant precaution against contracting the virus. Lastly, both of these masks are approved by the CDC and are seen in the medical field and in everyday life and can protect you from unwanted pathogens. 

 

 

 

Our Next Steps To Defeat Covid-19.

Introduction

Whether it is protection from an angry bear, a criminal on the loose, the simple flu, or for safe sex, the measures we take to ensure our safety is one of the most important steps to continue to stay healthy and safe. We must continue to educate ourselves on what actions we must take in order to keep ourselves and the people around us as safe as possible.

Recently, our society has had a lot of controversy around products like masks and their effectiveness. Although many of our methods may not guarantee complete safety, we must attempt to reduce the amount of spread of serious viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

To quickly clarify, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that invades our bodies. When SARS-CoV-2 is able to bypass our bodies’ immune system functions and infect cells in our system, our bodies contract the disease Covid-19. If further information is desired, please refer to this study on SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 conducted by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

As we approach a whole year with the presence of Covid-19 in the United States of America, we must stop to reflect on our actions and see what we can do to prevent the virus from wreaking more havoc on our society. One of the most important factors for Covid-19’s ability to spread as much as it had, was the lack of proper protection techniques used by citizens of the United States of America.

Firstly, it is very important to understand how SARS-CoV-2 is able to transfer from person to person so easily. According to the CDC, The most common way for SARS-CoV-2 to spread is through people inhaling respiratory droplets, released through other people’s coughing, sneezing, talking, etc. into their own nose and mouth. Although much rarer, SARS-CoV-2 can sometimes be spread through airborne transmission and contact with contaminated surfaces.

Since breathing is a necessity to continue living, we obviously can’t perfectly avoid inhaling these respiratory droplets, but in what ways can we try to reduce the damage of possible Covid-19 cases in the United States of America…

Forms of Protection

According to the CDC, we can take very specific steps in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

To further elaborate on a few of these methods, we as a society must educate ourselves on the best and most efficient way to carry out these actions. One main example at the moment is mask usage in the United States of America. Despite constantly being told, I often see many citizens wearing their masks in ways that are strongly discouraged: some under the nose, some dangling from their ears, and some not on at all. Not only does this put their own bodies at risk of contracting Covid-19, but it also risks the health of others as well.

According to the articleStill Confused About Masks? Here’s the Science Behind How Face Masks Prevent Coronavirus” by Nina Bai, a study conducted by health affairs, compared the Covid-19 growth rate before and after a mask mandate. Nina  states that “the first five days after a mandate, the daily growth rate slowed by 0.9 percentage-points compared to the five days prior to the mandate; at three weeks, the daily growth rate had slowed by 2 percentage-points.” Another study conducted by Christopher Leffler, Edsel Ing and many more professionals also found that out of the 198 countries that they had observed the Covid-19 death rate of “those with cultural norms or government policies favoring mask-wearing had lower death rates.”  Through studies, we can observe the effectiveness of such resources and use these materials such as masks to the best of our abilities to help each other stay safe.

If you are in need of instruction on how to properly use a mask and other small important pieces of information. Please refer to the CDC’s article “How to Select, Wear, and Clean Your Mask”

Another term that many have learned this year, is the term “Social Distancing.” Although staying 6 feet apart from one another like the CDC has told us, it becomes very difficult for every day citizens to abide to this rule as we have a natural tendency to gravitate towards our peers, family and other people in our communities. In order to reduce spreading the virus to other people we must stay socially-distant from others to allow people to live their lives much more comfortably, especially considering that most cases of SARS-CoV-2 transfer are caused through inhaling respiratory droplets.

Another luxury many people don’t use properly is the sinks that are in our homes and bathrooms. I’ve seen way too many people use hand sanitizer instead of going to wash their hands for the recommended 20 seconds with soap and water. For many reasons, this practice can be extremely harmful if someone is trying to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. According to the CDC, there are many cases where using regular hand sanitizer won’t be as efficient as a simple washing of hands with soap and water. For example, hand sanitizer is not as efficient on greasy and dirty hands: hands after handling food, playing sports, going fishing and many other activities that may lead to dirty hands. In cases as such, the CDC recommends using soap and water for 20 seconds. However, we must truly wash our hands by properly scrubbing our hands and not simply allow the water from the sink to run through our fingers and palms. The friction caused by scrubbing allows for the lifting of dirt, grease and microbes on your skin. Microbes are also extremely present under your nails which is why your parents always tell you to make sure to get your nails when you wash your hands. Without properly cleaning our hands and other parts of our bodies, we may accidentally bring harmful substances towards our face, where the virus may be able to easily enter our bodies. By cleaning our hands thoroughly and carefully, we significantly reduce the chances of spreading the virus to others and ourselves.

Biological Implication

The reason the CDC places so much emphasis on thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, is so that we can make sure to keep our hands clean from any harmful substances. If someone were to only wash their hands with water, they wouldn’t be able to wash off all the non polar substances like grease and oil off of their hands. For this reason, we use soap to and water rather than only water. Due to water’s polar properties, it can only bond with other polar molecules. When one adds soap into their cleansing routine, there are two new parts being tossed into the mix. The hydrophilic heads from the soap attach to the water molecules and the hydrophobic tails of the molecule bond with the non polar substances such as grease and oil. The water then continues to carry the soap and harmful substances away from our hands as other water molecules pull them down with them as gravity takes its course. Soap, being made of lipids, shows versatility as it’s able to bond with both polar and non polar molecules and allows us to fully wash our hands with its polar and non polar qualities.

Conclusion

With proper masks, socially-distant people, clean hands and many other precautions we can make sure that the spread growth is reduced way more than it previously was. Scientists are still trying to figure out all the details themselves. They’re human beings and they’re bound to make mistakes as well, so we must be understanding and flexible when new studies and information prove claims that could help us reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 even more. In these troubling times we must look out for each other and be strong yet malleable as we face hardships that many haven’t ever experienced before.

 

 

 

How Could the Coronavirus Pandemic Harm the Environment?

In light of the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, the worldwide pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2, and all of its negative effects, people have been searching for some silver lining to the whole mess. I am someone who is passionate about saving the environment, and I was thrilled to hear about positive environmental outcomes that the pandemic caused. Unfortunately, while rumors have circled around that the environment has benefitted from quarantine, experts are now saying the opposite could soon be true. It is hard to tell what the future will hold, but signs point to a risk of a future with more traffic, pollution, and resulting climate change. 

During April, the prime of stay-at-home orders and when most people were on full lockdown, daily global carbon emissions were down 17% from 2019. However, by June they were only down about 5% from 2019, and at this point many people were still not going about daily life like “normal.” Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia in Britain says that “as soon as the restrictions are released, we go right back to where we were.” A somewhat similar situation during the 2007-2008 financial crisis provides some insight into the future. At the time, emissions dropped, but later rose right back up. 

China exhibits an example of a quickly diminished hope of change in their air quality. As they were the first country to shut down, they had a dramatic shift in air quality due to slowed manufacturing and transportation. However, they were also one of the first countries to begin reopening, and this change did not last long. Factories pushed to make up for lost time and the pollution consequently returned, even growing to higher levels than before the pandemic in certain places. Traffic levels have also apparently bounced back to the same magnitude as before the pandemic, despite the fact that there are still people who have not yet returned to regular life and are unaccounted for in this statistic. Furthermore, industries in fossil fuels, plastics, airlines, automobiles, etc. have been negatively impacted by the virus and now are searching for any way they can to make a profit. Governments including the US have complied with their pleas for cash, regulatory rollbacks, and other “special favors.” As a result, “there’s a serious risk that polluters could emerge from this crisis bolder and potentially more profitable than ever,” says Lukas Ross, a senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth. 

Another devastating example of negative environmental impacts can be seen in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. During the pandemic illegal loggers, people who harvest, transport, process, buy, or sell timber in violation of national or subnational laws, took advantage of the “smokescreen” provided by the pandemic and caused destruction in the rainforest that surpassed amounts in previous years. According to satellite data, 64% more land was cleared in April 2020 than in April 2019, despite 2019 being a record year for deforestation for the past decade. This is significant because the Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in regulating the world’s oxygen and carbon cycles, producing roughly six percent of the world’s oxygen. As we know from biology class, oxygen is essential as it is one of the main building blocks of life. Our cells need oxygen to produce various proteins, and ultimately more cells. Oxygen is also crucial in many of our body systems. Without oxygen, the creation of carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and lipids would be impossible. The Amazon, which produces a significant amount of oxygen, is being destroyed more and more every year. The rainforest is also considered a carbon sink, meaning it absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, lowering CO2 concentrations. Its function as a carbon sink helps combat CO2 levels in the atmosphere and climate change.

It is unknown what else is in store for the environment in the remainder of the pandemic and in coming years, but we can only hope for the best.

ARE WE DOOMED? Maybe not

     Well, this year has been a ride. Starting off with a potential WWIII, continuing with the tragic loss of hall of fame athlete Kobe Bryant, 2020 has been one roller coaster of a year. But the most bizarre of it all was the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic swept the nation way back in March and it still has its grasp on us today. At the time it started, there was very little information on this virus. But now, due to our vast intricate technologies, we were able to find out lots of information on this virus. But, specifically, I want to talk about life after contracting the virus. See, normally when you have a virus and successfully heal from it, you develop antibodies so you will not get this type of virus again. The case is a bit different for COVID-19, or it might be the same. Read to find out!

     This topic is very interesting because there have been more than 10 million people who have acquired the virus. The people that have successfully recovered from the virus want to know the main question: Will I be able to get this virus again? The answer isn’t so simple. Early on the data provided to us gave us hope that the immunity to this virus was possible, but numerous cases also suggest that this immunity to the virus is brief (on a larger scale). Nothing is definite as of now, there is more research to be done, but for now we remain hopeful. 

 

So why do we say the immunity to the virus is brief?

     We know there is hope because there is proof that people who have contracted COVID-19 produce antibodies that protect our immune system, but this production of antibodies lasts maybe 3 to 4 months based on the data provided. The length of time still remains unclear. 

 

So how does this actually work?

     Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital tested three types of antibodies in blood samples: immunoglobulin G (IgG), immunoglobulin A (IgA), and immunoglobulin B (IgB). Immunoglobulin is a large Y-shaped protein used in the immune system to detect foreign invaders in the blood such as viruses. These proteins bind to these foreign invaders in order to fight them off. We learned from our unit with proteins that antibodies are a form of proteins that can influence the life of a molecule/virus. The most important of all the immunoglobulins stated above is IgG. The reason is because IgG has the potential to sustain immunity in the body. This is because when all three of these antibodies were found in the blood after being infected by COVID-19, IgA and IgB were obliterated by the spike protein found in COVID-19. But, IgG lasted in the stream for up to four months! Now, the researchers could not test IgG for that long, but the four months that they could observe showed that these IgG antibodies do persist to beat the virus! A more long term study is definitely needed. This study is also confirmed by another research group from the University of Toronto. This group also showed how IgA and IgB levels dropped rapidly about 12 days after infection while IgG levels remained steady. 

 

So can you get COVID more than once?

     Although it is very rare, there have been some cases where people contracted the virus more than once. But, there is no evidence that suggests that immunity is or is not possible. All in all, evidence shows that immunity after acquiring the virus is generally protective and the persistence of the IgG antibody provides hope for immunity to the virus. – Ghohesion

So we beat SARS and MERS… Why haven’t we beat COVID-19?

Many people, especially those who were alive during the SARS and MERS outbreak, may be wondering why we haven’t beat the Coronavirus yet if we beat the SARS and MERS outbreaks, two very similar viruses to COVID-19 or Sars-CoV2. This is a question many people have been facing everyday as the Coronavirus disease has caused a shift in the entire globe’s day to day life unlike SARS and MERS. 

SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 are all part of the coronavirus family. “Coronaviruses are a large family of enveloped RNA viruses” that can be found in a variety of bat and bird species. While this makes the three viruses similar, they all have specific differences causing unique results in terms of outbreaks and how the specific viruses have spread. What is so powerful or different about the coronavirus causing COVID? 

First of all, let’s talk about how viruses hijack our bodies. Viruses are microscopic parasites, much smaller than bacteria, that contain key elements that make up all living things such as nucleic acids and DNA or RNA, but are unable to replicate and access this information encoded in their nucleic acids, meaning they cannot self replicate. In order to reproduce, they rely on the genetic material of host cells (our own cells). As we talked about in class, viruses are able to bind to our cell surface receptors and trick our cells to “let them in”. The viruses are then able to hijack our cells by releasing their genomes, or that information they couldn’t previously access, resulting in our cell making millions of copies of that genome to spread throughout the body in order to infect other cells and / or other human hosts. This is how all three of the coronaviruses hijacked our bodies and communities. Let’s hear what happened once this step occured.

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The SARS outbreak began in the Guangdong province in China in 2002. The coronavirus that caused SARS, called SARS-CoV, was likely spread to humans, in the China wet markets, from civets or other animals who acquired the virus from horseshoe bats. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert after identifying an atypical pneumonia spreading amongst hospital staff and later names the virus SARS based on the symptoms people began to express. The epidemic was controlled on July 5th 2003 and only four cases have been reported since, 3 of which being in a lab setting dealing with the specific coronavirus. The reason why SARS was able to be contained so quickly was due to the fact that one could only spread the virus if he/she had symptoms and if one expressed symptoms it was easy to self isolate, therefore not spreading the virus to others. In addition, SARS has a fatality rate of 9.6% meaning a good number of people who contracted SARS were likely to pass on and therefore not pass on the virus to others. 

MERS stands for Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. As we learned in class, viruses are no longer named by their place of origin, but this was not the case in 2012 during the outbreak of MERS. Similar to SARS, MERS is a zoonotic virus, meaning MERS was passed from an animal, in this case a camel who contracted the virus from bat once again, to humans in Saudi Arabia. Although 27 countries have reported cases of MERS since 2012, transmission among people is rare and MERS has a fatality rate of 34.3%, making it even more deadly than SARS and therefore making it even harder to spread. 

The first case of COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 was reported in Wuhan China in December 2019. By the end of January 2020 the WHO had declared a public health emergency of international concern and by the beginning of February the WHO had declared a pandemic. So what makes the coronavirus disease so much worse than the other ones? How did COVID-19 spread so quickly and to the entire globe? And why are our daily lives changed forever or at least until we can get a handle on the virus?

First of all, the COVID-19 causing coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is very similar to SARS-CoV, but with very unique and important differences. What we have all learned about SARS-CoV-2 is that you don’t need to be experiencing symptoms to transmit the virus. This is very different from SARS-CoV where you needed to have symptoms in order to transmit the virus. Also, while the transmission rates are lower for MERS and SARS because the fatality rates are higher, in the case of COVID-19, the fatality rate is approximately 1-3%, meaning more people are surviving COVID-19 making it easier for this virus to survive and pass on to other people that it has yet to infect. In addition, as we talked about in class, we have evidence that “viruses can naturally mutate to mimic host biology so as to ensure successful viral propagation” and as a result “a host of high frequency mutations have resulted in a least 5 differentiated SARS-CoV-2 strains to date” making it even harder to develop a successful vaccine to target and eliminate the coronavirus disease.   

So, will we ever be able to put a stop to the spread of the coronavirus disease and therefore the pandemic? The answer is yes, but we first need to figure out how to stop the spread of the virus. The truth about COVID-19 is that unfortunately, as stated above, it is much easier to transmit than SARS and MERS, and COVID-19 has been able to get on planes and travel the world unlike the previous coronaviruses. While it is easier to transmit it is also more survivable than the other coronaviruses that have impacted our communities thus far.

Intentionally making the flu deadlier?

In a recent New York Times article, research has been put into actually genetically enhancing viruses, specifically avian flu, to become more lethal by increaing its transmission. This might sound crazy but the scientists argue that being able to produce a more lethal virus will enable the scientists to come up with a better way of preventing a future epidemic. Other people are afraid that the enhanced viruses could accidentaly get out of the laboratory or be stolen by terrorists to cause an epidemic. Whatever the argument is, it is important for scientists to be able to better understand viruses and their ability to become a pandemic or not. From what scientists know already, the main factors for a virus to be lethal are how the virus is transmitted, what cells the virus affects, and where it enters the body.

Two seperate groups have been working on the avian flu virus, a group at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam and the other at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Ron Flouchier led the team at the lab in Rotterdam and they were able to modify the virus to transmit through the air for short distances to infect other animals, in this case ferrets because the flu behaves similarly to ferrets as it does to humans. Although they have begun to find ways to make the virus more transmissable, the number of modifications to the temperature the flu can withstand, the location where the virus attacks, and other factors to make the virus actually be threatening to humans is large. The avian flu has only infected 600 people since its discovery in 1997 and even though more than half of them died the chances of people actaully getting the flu is very low and there are vaccines for the flu.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar