BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Prevention

What face mask should you go buy?

When you are leaving your house, how do you decide what mask to wear that day? Have you tried different kinds? Masks have become a new part of our daily life. We all have to wear masks in social situations or anywhere out in public in order to prevent ourselves and others from contracting coronavirus. In the past few months, there have been many different types of masks that are being sold. Some even have super cool designs, and some are more comfortable than others. So, when you are picking a mask, do you stop and think about which one is the most effective at doing its job of protecting you?

Overview on Masks and the protection

The article from Healthline explores the variety of masks, and discusses the usefulness. In general, masks are an essential preventative measure to take as it reduces the risk of transmission of Covid-19, along with the other protective measures, such as distancing and proper hygiene. The purpose of masks are to protect oneself from the respiratory droplets from traveling into the air. It is especially important to protect yourself in public because around 80% of the coronavirus transmission has been rooted from asymptomatic carriers. An asymptomatic carrier is someone who has contracted the Coronavirus, but has no symptoms of the virus. However, asymptomatic people can still spread the virus.  By wearing a mask, one is able to prevent the airborne transmission of the coronavirus pathogens through our bodies primary defenses such as the mouth, nose and the eyes. Since the coronavirus pathogens are able to get past the barrier defenses if you do not wear a mask and take other preventative measures, this triggers innate cellular defenses, which lead to the inflammatory response in our body, such as fevers, colds and more. Inner surface is lined with tiny hairs cilia or mucus membranes which trap pathogens and can be removed by sneezing or coughing or swallowed to be broken down by stomach acids.

Surgical Masks and Valve Masks

Surgical masks are disposable, single use masks that cover your mouth and nose. They are made out of a breathable synthetic fabric. There is not a airtight seal around the area it covers, and there has been a large range on how the surgical masks filter pathogens. Respirators have intense filters that filter the pathogens in the air. These are also airtight, unlike the surgical masks. Some of the respirator masks have valves which lets some exhaled air to escape. The downside to this is that it does not protect others from pathogens exhaled through the valves. This is because the valves in the mask allow respiratory droplets from the person wearing the mask out into the air and get to other people.

N95 Respirator Masks

N95 masks can protect one from particles as small as 0.3 microns. N95 masks are extremely effective in preventing airborne particles from entering through the areas of the nose and mouth. The name “N95” comes from the fact that the respirator blocks 95% of small and large particles out. The ‘N’ is the respirator rating class. The ‘N’ stands for “non oil”, so basically no oil based particulates are present. The filtering and protection is much higher than a surgical or a cloth mask.

Homemade and store bought Cloth Masks

Masks that many people make at home are considered to be the least effective as the fabric is less secure and allows for small droplets to enter inside the mask. Also, many of these cloth masks have gaps near the nose, jaw or mouth area that also be areas where the droplets can be inhaled by the person wearing the mask. If you do wear a mask made at home, use 100% cotton fabric, which is the most effective material for cloth masks. Now, most stores are selling all different kinds of cloth masks. In general, all cloth masks vary with effectiveness as they are constructed with different fits, materials, and layers which all effect filtration. But, overall, store bought masks have had better securely fitting masks, which is very important in wearing a face mask for protection to properly cover the nose and mouth. If you are buying a cloth mask from a store, look for cloth masks that come with a nose wire and a filter insert which upgrade the masks. Overall though, whether it is homemade or store bought, surgical and n95 masks are more effective than both in protecting the wearer.

Overall, a key factor in any mask usage is how you wear the mask. Have you caught yourself accidentally letting the mask slip off your nose, and not doing anything about it? The proper usage is extremely important in having the masks be effective and prevent ourselves from getting the virus. We are in a very critical time, and the least we can all do is wear a mask to protect ourselves, others and lower the spread of the virus. We can all help reduce transmission! Be sure to wear a mask and be safe!

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. 

 

 

 

Protecting Ourselves Against COVID-19

How does COVID-19 spread?

According to this article by the CDC, there are two main ways the coronavirus spreads:

  • The inhalation/exchange of respiratory emissions from:
    • Coughing/Sneezing
    • Talking/Singing
    • Breathing
  • Touching a surface with the virus on it and (without washing hands) touching:
    • Eyes
    • Nose
    • Mouth

 

Preventing the spread of COVID-19

An article (source article) from Harvard Medical School explains everything you need to know about preventing the spread of the virus. Below is a summary of how to contribute to the prevention of the spread of the virus.

 

Protecting yourself and others:

In order to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus, you should avoid those who are infected and others if you are infected, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and disinfect objects that are frequently touched daily. You should also minimize travel and time spent in crowds/close quarters.

 

Washing your hands:

Whenever your hands are dirty (ex: after using the bathroom) or are going to be near your face (ex: before eating a meal), wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you are unable to wash your hands during these times, sanitize with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. A guide for washing hands, created by the CDC, explains how to properly wash your hands in five simple steps:

  1. Run your hands under clean water until sufficiently wet, then acquire soap
  2. Rub the soap around the whole surface of your hand, between every finger, underneath every nail, etc.
  3. Keep doing this for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse off all the soap under clean water
  5. Dry your hands on a clean drying surface or let them air dry

 

Social Distancing:

Social distancing is when in social settings, people maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between each person. This is crucial for at least slowing down the rate of infected people, providing hospitals more time and resources to take care of infected people without being overwhelmed by a large number of patients. It’s important to note that just social distancing is not enough to prevent the spread of the virus, as respiratory emissions may linger and travel more than 6 feet when airborne. Make sure to also wear a mask and avoid the indoors and areas without air circulation while with other people.

 

Essential resources:

When grocery shopping, make sure to buy a lot of nonperishable goods to keep in case of an emergency. Make sure to wear a mask when going out, as masks prevent the spread of respiratory emissions and help prevent hands from touching faces. Wipe down surfaces such as carts and baskets before using and make sure to wash your hands after using. If you’re part of an increased risk group, try to avoid going out as much as possible.

 

Minimally useful measures:

Some individuals decide to take extra precautionary measures, but they are unnecessary for the most part. Some of these include wearing gloves and quarantining mail. In situations like these, just make sure to wash your hands after handling potentially infected objects, other measures do not help significantly.

 

Masks:

Wear a mask! The most common way the virus spreads is, as stated before, through respiratory emissions. Wearing a mask prevents these emissions from traveling throughout the environment. Even asymptomatic people may carry/spread the virus, so it is important to wear a mask no matter what. Masks should fit tightly and be worn properly, completely covering the mouth and nose. Masks are not supposed to be an alternative to the other methods of prevention but should be used in addition to the other methods.

 

Infants/Toddlers:

There is an alarming amount of young children put at risk from improper/a lack of safety measures. This article from kidshealth.org explains how to properly protect children under the age of 2 from COVID-19. First of all, babies should not wear masks. This is because since their airways are extremely small, they will have a hard time breathing and may suffocate in a mask. They may also touch their face more frequently in attempts to remove the mask, increasing their risk of infection. Since they can’t wear masks, it is important to avoid going out in public with them if possible. If unavoidable, make sure to wash or sanitize your hands before handling them and put them in a stroller with a covering.

 

An analogy based on cells and membranes:

A simple way to think about it is as if the human body were a cell. The skin is like a cell membrane and the eyes, nose, and mouth are like channels in the membrane. Wearing a mask is like closing the channels in order to keep substances out. Being in a large group of people is similar to a cell in a hypotonic solution, making it more likely for the virus to “diffuse” into your body. Socially distancing is slightly similar to a cell in a hypertonic solution, for this makes it less likely for the virus to flow into the body. To sum up, just make sure to make smart decisions, wash your hands, maintain social distancing, and wear a mask. Following these guidelines will help us protect each other until the virus is no more.

CRISPR/CAS9: Potential to destroy malaria?

CRISPR. Sounds more like a new brand of potato chip than something potentially revolutionary (Bold new flavor. Bold new crunch. CRISPR.). Nevertheless, this tool used for easy gene editing and slicing is tearing up the science world because it could be the key to combatting disorders and diseases.

Recent research indicates that CRISPR/Cas9 based genome editing tools could aid in the fight against malaria, one of the “big three” diseases that has long affected and continues to affect humans worldwide. How is CRISPR/Cas9 able to do this?

CRISPRs (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) originally are how bacteria protect themselves from foreign viruses. CRISPRs contain DNA from viruses that have attacked the bacteria, and so when a similar virus attacks, the bacteria knows that this virus and his DNA are bad. Essentially, CRISPRs allow bacteria to build up immunity. When foreign DNA is detected, the Cas9 enzyme is guided by the CRISPR and is able to cut the desired DNA. Scientists have come up with a way to engineer and manipulate the CRISP/CAS9 system into other organisms (such as mosquitoes) so that we can successfully edit genome sequences and genes to produce desired results. We take advantage by specifying which genes the Cas9 should cut/replace, and then it does just that. Therefore, the CRISPR/Cas9 system allows us new genome editing potential like none before.

Made by Viktoria Anselm.

How does this apply to mosquitoes and malaria? Scientists experimented with genetically modified malaria-transmitting mosquitoes (Anopheles gambiae), altering the fibrinogen-related protein 1 (FREP1) gene on them. This gene essentially codes for a protein that makes mosquitoes a vector for malaria. The scientists used the CRISPR/Cas9 to inactivate this gene.

The results produced mosquitoes with significantly less transmission of malaria to both human and rodent cells. However, these mosquitoes have “reduced fitness”: a significantly lower blood-feeding propensity, egg hatching rate, a retarded larval development, and reduced longevity after a blood meal. Essentially this means that these mosquitoes have a low chance of affecting populations of mosquitoes in the wild without being “pushed” by scientists, where scientists are “forcing DNA to inherit particular sets of genes.” This is called a gene drive. With a strong push for a couple of years, there is potential for worldwide mosquito populations to be significantly changed in 10-15 years.

Photo taken by JJ Harrison

I chose to write about this new research and potential breakthrough because it really means something to me, as I have lived in and visited countries threatened by malaria. I had to take preventative pills every morning, and I would have to sleep in a restrictive mosquito net. All that made me wonder about and feel for a kid in the same country who didn’t have those things and how he or she would manage without those barriers to malaria. Having said that, I really do believe this is a worthwhile option we should explore, and I think it can make a difference for the world.

What do you think? Do you think it is realistic for theses mosquitoes to change the entire mosquito population and effectively help reduce malaria transmission? Will CRISPR/Cas9 work as we hoped? Or is it too good to be true?

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