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Covid-19: Vaccines (Part 3 of 3): You’re Safe if You’re Vaccinated

COVID-19: Vaccines (Part 3 of 3): You’re Safe if You’re Vaccinated

by
Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski
presented by
Donna O’Donnell Figurski

(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19.  Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion, I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus.)

David Figurski

David H. Figurski, Ph.D & Survivor of Brain Injury

     Some things people need to know about vaccination and life after vaccination.

     If you’re healthy, you don’t need a booster, but it won’t hurt to get it. Donna and I will get the booster because we’re in the senior demographic, and our immune systems may have declined somewhat.

     Vaccinated people can get infected, but their disease will be mild or asymptomatic. There is no such thing as a “breakthrough infection.” All vaccines allow infection, but prevent severe disease.

Because vaccination doesn’t prevent infection, we definitely don’t want to infect any of the as-yet-unvaccinated children. We always wear our masks around children and try to keep a distance between them and us.

vaccine Stop Coronavirus, covid – 19 , China, Wuhan, Danger, vector Illustration.

For the reasons I discuss below, virologists in my former department at Columbia say the vaccines will protect you from all the variants we know about – despite all the hysteria.

Columbia virologist Vincent Racaniello continues to emphasize that there are no data to support increased transmissibility of any variant. Delta might be widespread for any one of a number of possible reasons.

All the US vaccines are safe. Because of them, my fears of hospitalization and death are gone.

But we still may be susceptible to getting Long COVID (see below). (There aren’t enough data yet on whether vaccinated people can still get Long COVID.) The reason this is an issue is because Long COVID can apparently be brought on by a mild infection.

4i9pkz4ATEven though we’ve been vaccinated, we are still being careful. We try to mix with vaccinated people only. We try to avoid people and places that might be hot spots for infection. We only eat on restaurant patios; we never eat inside. We still practice social-distancing when we can, and we still wash our hands thoroughly and use disinfectant if we can’t wash our hands.

But we have also relaxed several things. Donna now goes into stores, but she always wears her mask. We’ve traveled by car, so we have stayed in motels. Although we don’t eat inside, we have walked through several restaurants with our masks on. Also, we’ve eliminated some precautions with our mail and our food packages.

You can stop here.

If you want more detail, the following is an easily understood explanation of what the vaccines do and why they’re so protective.

All the currently approved US vaccines are directed to one viral protein: the Spike protein. Spike proteins decorate the virus coat. They are responsible for allowing the virus to bind to a protein (ACE2) on the surface of lung cells. Because the viral-encoded Spike protein and the host-encoded ACE2 protein bind to each other, the virus can bind to the lung cell and get inside to start an infection. This means the lung cell will be hijacked and reprogrammed to make more virus particles. Each infected cell will release thousands of new virus particles. They can then attach to more lung cells. And the cycle repeats. You can easily see how a virus can quickly overwhelm its host animal.

(Incidentally, the Spike protein probably got its name because pictures (electron micrographs) of the virus show that it resembles a “mace,” a weapon used in medieval times. The head of the mace had spikes which did the damage. Similarly, the coronavirus particle is coated with “spikes.” They are made from trimers (assemblies of three copies of a single kind of protein) of the Spike protein. Coronavirus definitely got its name from pictures. Several Spike protein trimers on the surface of each virus particle make the virus look like a cartoon-drawing of the sun. The spikes on the virus look like the “corona” of the sun.)

Antibodies work by binding to the Spike protein and preventing the Spike protein from binding the lung cell’s ACE2 protein. As a result, the virus can’t bind a lung cell to start an infection.

All proteins are made up of a series of amino acids linked end to end. The Spike protein has 1273 amino acids. The sequence and types of amino acids (of which there are 20) determine the property and the folding of the Spike protein. The proteins are molecular machines. There are tens of thousands of different proteins in the human body – each one doing a unique job. The virus-encoded Spike protein is the viral machine that makes it possible for the SARS-2 coronavirus to infect lung cells.

Of the 1273-amino acids in Spike protein, only a few amino acids form the binding domain that allows binding of Spike protein to ACE2. Antibodies that bind to this binding domain of Spike protein inactivate the Spike protein and prevent the virus from infecting lung cells. Such antibodies are called “neutralizing antibodies.” The purpose of the vaccines is to stimulate the production of antibodies to the entire Spike protein, some of which will be neutralizing antibodies that can block infection. In other words, the neutralizing antibodies are a subset of all the antibodies produced that bind to the Spike protein. Because the Spike protein has lots of amino acids and lots of domains, it will stimulate lots of different antibodies that will bind the Spike protein, but only those that bind to the Spike domain that binds ACE2 are neutralizing antibodies. Only they will prevent the ability of the virus particles to bind to lung cells and get in.

The sequence of the 1273 amino acids in the Spike protein can also be seen as several smaller sequences of amino acids. Some small sequences of amino acids can fold properly and stimulate the formation of specific antibodies directed against that small domain. So most of the Spike-protein-specific antibodies bind the Spike protein at other places and do not block the ability of the virus to bind to and infect lung cells. The most relevant domain is the sequence of amino acids needed to form and fold properly so that Spike protein (and therefore the virus) can bind the lung cell’s ACE2 protein. Antibodies to that domain prevent binding of the virus to lung cells. These are the antibodies of interest – the so-called “neutralizing” antibodies. In fact, scientists are thinking of using only the amino acids that allow the proper structure of the ACE2-binding domain to form. If a vaccine can be made from the ACE2-binding domain only of the Spike protein, then maybe more neutralizing antibodies would be made, and the vaccine might even be better at preventing disease.

Some variants are known to bind the neutralizing antibodies less well. The virus has “seen” many vaccinated people, so there is “pressure” for the virus to change to ensure its survival. Some altered viruses randomly arise with slight changes, like differences in the amino acid used at a certain position of the Spike protein. (There is a reason why Nature allows DNA and RNA replication to make some random, but very rare, errors.) Some changed (=mutant=variant) viruses are still able to form a domain of Spike protein that can bind ACE2 yet evade some of the neutralizing antibodies that block the original Spike protein. Such changed viruses may do better and eventually become predominant. So random errors in replication can lead to viruses that have some ability to resist neutralizing antibodies, yet still bind to lung cells to start infection. These are what we are calling “variants.” Because the change increased the virus’ chance of escaping neutralizing antibodies, it survives better.  The arising of variants is evolution that we can see happening in real time.

But we got lucky! Some of the variants (like Delta) may escape some neutralizing antibodies. But we are still protected! The Spike protein also stimulates killer T cells, an important arm of the immune system that is usually ignored.

The killer T cell arm of the immune system is as potent as the more commonly known antibody arm. Not every protein has sequences that can instruct killer T cells, but Spike protein does. When a cell makes proteins, a small fraction of each protein being synthesized is chopped up, and small fragments of that protein are displayed on the surface of the cell. The immune system has a way to instruct a killer T cell to kill any cell making a foreign protein (that is, one not made by the human body). A killer T cell that has “learned” to recognize a fragment of Spike protein on a cell’s surface will kill the cell making it because that cell is considered to be making virus.

And that’s not all! The antibody arm of the immune system is less potent in the variants, but the killer T cell arm is completely unaffected. Not only that, but, whereas a variant resistant to the antibodies can affect an entire population, because of mechanism, it is impossible for a variant resistant to killer T cells to spread beyond a couple of individuals in the worst-case scenario.

Bottom line: All the Spike-protein-based vaccines we know about (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, J&J, and the UK’s Oxford-Astra Zeneca) are protective beyond expectations. You’re safe if you’re vaccinated.

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COVID-19: Vaccines (Part 2 of 3): Protection by Antibodies is Only Part of the Story

COVID-19: Vaccines (Part 2 of 3): Protection by Antibodies is Only Part of the Story
by
Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski
presented by
Donna O’Donnell Figurski

(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19.  Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion, I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus.)

 

David H. Figurski, Ph.D & Survivor of Brain Injury

Vaccination against COVID-19 primes your immune system to be ready to use every defense it has to fight the virus. It stimulates the creation of a potent and specific defense tailored to fight the COVID-19 virus.

Vaccination has been shown to be amazingly effective. All three vaccines for COVID-19 that have been used in the US (Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson) are 100% effective in preventing both hospitalization and death.

When people think of vaccination, they usually think only of antibodies. But this ignores the stimulation of an equally potent arm of immune system.

The bottom line is that vaccination (1) stimulates the production of antibodies that bind to the virus to prevent infection and (2) creates and activates “killer” T cells that destroy cells that have been infected.

Because antibodies are only part of the defensive power of your immune system, no one should be worried about variants, despite hysterical articles by a largely ignorant press.  We should certainly continue to monitor variants, but there is nothing to be worried about yet.  The antibodies are less able to block virus, but they still work.  Importantly, the killer T cells are unaffected by any variant.

The T cell response after vaccination against COVID-19 is as potent as the antibody arm of the immune system.  Some people cannot make antibodies, yet they do well after infection by COVID-19.

Some facts:

Your immune system is composed of two parts.  A first line of defense (Innate Immunity) acts immediately against any foreign substance.  It is non-specific.  After about a week, a specific and more potent immunity (Adaptive Immunity) has developed. The adaptive arm uses antibodies and T cells.

Vaccination stimulates your adaptive immunity, so the antibodies and T cells are ready before infection.

Scientists don’t yet know how long the anti-COVID-19 antibody levels remain high, but data show that antibodies have remained high for six months so far.  You may need to get vaccinated every year, as you do for the flu virus.

The antibody level will eventually go down, but your immune system maintains a few “memory cells” of the antibody-producing cells. These cells make antibody-producing cells immediately after infection.  So your immune system is fully armed in 2-3 days.

I strongly urge you to listen to minutes 6:25-22:00 of the interview TWiV 736 <March 28, 2021>of Dr. Alessandro Sette, a world-renowned expert on T cells and COVID-19 from The La Jolla Institute for Immunology, by Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a virologist and expert on COVID-19 from Columbia U.  Dr. Sette gives a basic explanation of T cells, the response to COVID-19, and vaccination.

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COVID-19: The President’s Infection (Part 2 of 4)

COVID-19: The President’s Infection (Part 2 of 4)

by

Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19. Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus in this post.)

David H. Figurski, Ph.D & Survivor of Brain Injury

Dr. Griffin labels Week 1 of the infection as the “viral phase.” During Week 1, the virus is multiplying and is present in abundance. A test for COVID-19 would easily be positive. Because the President first felt symptoms on Wednesday, it’s likely that the President was infected for several days before the positive result on Friday, October 2.

Other data suggest that the President was at the end of Week 1 of the infection or at the beginning Week 2.

Week 2 of the infection is called the “cytokine storm phase” by Dr. Griffin.Cytokine Cytokines are molecules released by some cells that cause an action by other cells. When certain immune system cells sense a problem (like a virus-infected cell), they release cytokines to get other immune cells to multiply, to make attack molecules, or to come and help eliminate the cause of the problem. Normally, the immune system works well, but sometimes the immune system overreacts and causes severe problems or even death. “Cytokine storm” refers to an overreaction by the immune system. A steroid (for example, dexamethasone, which the President was given) is effective because it will dampen the immune response, a potentially beneficial effect when the immune system is overreacting. But, dexamethasone is considered harmful if the drug is not needed. (For example, dexamethasone is not given in Week 1 <the viral phase> because a normally functioning immune system is needed to reduce the amount of virus in the body.)

The President began taking dexamethasone while he was at Walter Reed. Dr. Griffin said that dexamethasone is not usually given in Week 1 because studies have shown that doing so can make COVID-19-disease outcomes worse. National Institutes of Health guidelines for physicians state that dexamethasone should only be given to patients with moderately severe or serious COVID-19 disease. The White House acknowledged that the President received oxygen before he was taken to Walter Reed. Supplemental oxygen is consistent with the President’s being given dexamethasone. Dr. Griffin said that oxygen, if needed, is usually given in Week 2, further indicating that the President’s infection may have started several days before Friday. October 2nd.

Doctors have found that COVID-19 has a third phase – a “clotting phase,” which starts at the end of Week 2 and extends at least through Week 3. COVID-19 infection can trigger clots, which can sometimes (albeit rarely) lead to strokes. Aspirin is routinely given at the end of Week 2 because it helps prevent clotting. Some patients had already been discharged from the hospital (having had two negative COVID-19 tests over two consecutive days and having agreed to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution) when a problem-clot occurred.

(To Be Continued)

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COVID-19: The President’s Infection (Part 1 of 4)

COVID-19: The President’s Infection (Part 1 of 4)

by

Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19. Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus in this post.)

This is an unusually long post, so I’ve divided it into four parts. It is easy to read, even though it’s filled with much information.

David H. Figurski, Ph.D & Survivor of Brain Injury

The complete story of the President’s COVID-19 infection and treatment is not known by the public. Virologist, Dr. Vincent Racaniello, interviewed Dr. Daniel Griffin, a New York City physician who has been treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients since the beginning of the pandemic. Vincent has been releasing podcasts about COVID-19 every couple of days. His TWiV podcast (This Week in Virology) of October 5, 2020, is a special podcast in which he and Dr. Griffin have a conversation about COVID-19 infection and treatments, as they relate to the President’s infection.

Vincent Racaniello is a professor and virologist and my former colleague in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University. His guest, Daniel Griffin, is a physician in the Infectious Disease Department of Columbia. Because Dr. Griffin has both an M.D. and a Ph.D., he is a physician-scientist and so has an additional appointment as Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics. Dr. Griffin is also the Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease for ProHEALTH Care Associates. ProHEALTH Care is the largest physician-owned multi-specialty practice in the nation. He is also on the COVID-19 response team for the tri-state area.

Dr. Griffin has applied his clinical and molecular knowledge of COVID-19 to the few details we know about President Trump’s infection. In doing so, we now have a better idea of the President’s case. I urge you to listen to the complete 34-minute TWiV podcast of October 5th. I have defined some terms and explained some concepts that may be unfamiliar to you.

President Trump announced at 1:00 am on Friday, October 2, 2020, that he and the First Lady tested positive for COVID-19. Later that day, the President was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He returned to the White House at 6:30 pm the next Monday. Many of the details of the infection and the President’s condition have remained unknown.

When the President’s COVID-19 infection began is unclear. The President first reported a positive test in the early morning of October 2nd. The President said he is not tested for COVID-19 every day, and the White House will not say when the President’s last negative test occurred. In his Town Hall on October 15th, the President said he didn’t know for sure that he had taken a test before the debate three days before he was admitted.

(To Be Continued)

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Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale

COVID-19 – It’s Everywhere . . . Immune Response, Vaccine Development, & Asymptomatic Infections

New Info for COVID-19: Immune Response, Vaccine Development, & Asymptomatic Infections

by

Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19. Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refers to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus in these posts.)

David H. Figurski, Ph.D & Survivor of Brain Injury

I have taken a 119-minute podcast on COVID-19 by a virologist and reduced it to the 21 minutes you probably want to hear the most. This long post looks scary, but it’s actually very easy to read and makes the 21 minutes readily understandable.

Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a virologist at Columbia University, was my colleague in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. He does a podcast on viruses, called TWiV (This Week in Virology). Since March 13th, when we started staying home and taking precautions to minimize the pandemic, Vincent has released over 40 podcasts, nearly all of which are about COVID-19.

TWiV is unique because the host, Vincent, does research on and lectures about viruses. In addition to his being a scientist, his podcasts always have a panel of PhDs, sometimes as many as five people (two more virologists, an immunologist, a parasitologist, and a former student – now a science reporter). The discussions are great and done with a non-scientist-audience in mind. TWiV is known worldwide and attracts tens of thousands of listeners every month. However, the TWiV podcasts are long (~1-2.5 hours), so I listen and tell you the minutes to listen to hear information that I think you’ll want to know.

This post is about TWiV #631, which was posted on June 25, 2020. (Note: The TWiV link is for all the podcasts. Be sure you listen to #631.)

TWiV podcast #631 is 119 minutes long, but I have selected ~21 minutes you may want to hear. The topics you’ll hear discussed are the following: the value of the safety precautions, the need for free and extensive testing, the unknowns of the immune response, the timetable for vaccine development (at least eight more months), and the role of age in symptomatic and asymptomatic infections.

I have broken down #631 into segments defined by the minutes I chose for you to listen to. (The last half of the podcast was spent answering questions from listeners. While much good information is in this section, I emphasized the parts you probably want to hear the most.)

Podcast #631 features a discussion by three scientists: Vincent (virologist, professor, Columbia U.), Rich Condit (virologist, Professor Emeritus, U. of Florida), and Brianne Barker (immunologist, professor, Drew U.). The scientists usually make sure their discussion is understandable to their generally non-scientist listeners, but I found that they occasionally used terms that may be unfamiliar to you. Therefore, I have provided a glossary in the segment in which the term is first used.

TWiV #631
Segment 1
Minutes 3:10-9:10
The cavalier attitude of some people to safety precautions; the spike of new cases in the US; the toxic mixture of politics and science; the 172 vaccine projects planned or in progress; how vaccine development – done properly – will take over eight more months

glossary
rotavirus – common RNA virus responsible for diarrhea in young children and infants. Worldwide, the virus is responsible for as many as 400,000 deaths annually. A vaccine was introduced in 2006.
protein subunit-based – Some large proteins are actually complexes of individual proteins or “subunits.” Inactivation of an essential subunit (for example, by a vaccine) inactivates the whole protein complex.
Phase III clinical trial – Clinical development of a vaccine is a three-phase process. During Phase I, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. In Phase II, the clinical study is expanded and the vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended. In Phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety. (from the CDC)

Segments 2 and 3
Minutes 17:20-19:05 and 22:25-24:00
Possible importance of T cells in the immune response; the role of antibodies may not be as important as first thought; implications

glossary
antibody – part of the adaptive immune response (see “innate immunity” below), which eventually selects for proteins (antibodies) that specifically bind to foreign (usually) substances (like viral proteins). Binding of an antibody to a substance can cause inactivation of that substance.
serology – the analysis of blood for the presence of antibodies that bind specific substances (in this case, to proteins of COVID-19). A positive serology test for COVID-19 means that you are now infected or have been infected sometime in the past.
T and B cells – The white blood cells are important to the immune response. Several types of white blood cells have been identified. T cells and B cells are two major classes. B cells produce antibodies. Two subtypes of T cells are known to be important for the immune response to COVID-19. One subtype signals B cells to produce antibodies. Another subtype (cytotoxic T cells) kill virus-infected cells. The scientists discuss the evidence that the latter subtype of T cells may be very important to the immune response to COVID-19.
innate immunity – the first line of defense or the non-specific arm of the immune response. The innate immune response is in contrast to the adaptive (specific) immune response, which includes antibody production and takes days to develop.
PI – Principle Investigator; the head of the project
neutralizing antibody – an antibody that blocks infection by the virus; for COVID-19, an antibody that inactivates the spike protein of the virus (see below) is a neutralizing antibody
IgG – Immunoglobulin Gamma; the majority of the long-lived antibodies in the blood
immunopathology – that part of a disease that is caused by the immune response

Segment 4
Minutes 26:25-29:40
Which vaccine will be the best? What should we think of a vaccine based on spike protein only?

glossary
MHC – Major Histocompatibility Complex – several genes that code for a large set of proteins that are on the surface of every cell. T cells monitor what the MHC surface proteins are bound to. Fragments of proteins (see “peptide” below) are bound to MHC proteins and displayed to a T cell by cell-cell contact. If a cytotoxic T cell recognizes the fragment as normal or “self,” it takes no action. If the cytotoxic T cell “sees” a peptide as different or foreign (as in a virus-infected cell), it will kill the cell. This is part of the innate immunity arm. Stimulation of a T helper cell by an MHC protein bound to a foreign peptide will signal the adaptive arm of the immune response, which includes antibody production.
peptide – a small fragment of a protein
antigen – a substance that stimulates the production of antibodies to itself and molecules very similar to itself. COVID-19 vaccine production uses one or more viral antigens to trigger an immune response in the absence of infection by the virus.
spike protein – a protein of COVID-19; important because it’s needed for the virus to bind tightly to the ACE2 (angiotensin converting enzyme 2) protein that’s on the surface of lung cells; the binding is needed for the virus to gain entry to the cell and start the infection; a target for some vaccines; antibodies that inactivate spike are called “neutralizing antibodies.”
attenuated – An inactivated virus is a virus that’s been killed. An attenuated virus is a live virus that replicates and induces the immune response the natural way, but no longer causes disease. The Salk polio vaccine is based on killed virus. The Sabin vaccine is based on an attenuated polio virus. (Interesting note: Vincent Racaniello sequenced the chromosomes of the normal and Sabin polio viruses and identified three mutations in the Sabin virus.)
Zika virus – a mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys. It was later identified in humans. In most cases, there are no symptoms. Most frighteningly, in pregnant women, it may cause subsequent birth defects, including microcephaly (small head due to an undeveloped brain). In early 2015, a widespread epidemic, caused by the Zika virus in Brazil, spread to other parts of South and North America. There’s no vaccine or specific treatment. (from WHO and Wikipedia)

Segments 5, 6, and 7
Minutes 29:55-36:45, 40:45-41:30, and 43:00-43:30
A paper by scientists in Italy provides data from a large pool of people to show that it’s easy to become infected by contact with an infected person, even though the infected person may have no symptoms, and also to show that the greater a person’s age is, the higher is the likelihood of having COVID-19 symptoms. (Seventy-four percent of people under 60 were asymptomatic!)

glossary
PCR-positive – The test for infection is the rapid and convenient PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. It detects the RNA chromosome of the virus. A PCR-positive result is taken as evidence that the person tested currently has an infection. (But, the test is so sensitive that it can sometimes detect fragments of viral RNA in a recovered patient.)
sero-positive – A positive result in a serology test of a blood sample indicates the presence of antibodies to proteins of COVID-19. The virus does not need to be present for a person to be sero-positive. Such a result indicates that the person is currently infected or was infected in the past.

 

Stay Safe and Healthy!

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COVID-19 — It’s Everywhere . . . Progress in Controlling COVID-19

Progress in Controlling COVID-19

by

Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19. Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus in these posts.)

COVID-19

David H. Figurski, Ph.D & Survivor of Brain Injury

 

 

I want to tell you about an amazing podcast, TWiV (This Week in Virology), created and hosted by Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a colleague of mine at Columbia University.

Vincent’s a virologist who has done cutting edge research on the molecular biology of influenza virus, poliovirus, and rhinoviruses (which cause the common cold). His podcasts feature several PhDs in microbiology (virologists, an immunologist, a parasitologist, and a science reporter who earned his PhD with Vincent) discussing the latest research and advances in viruses.

Vincent has been self-quarantining at home. Consequently, since March 13th, he has made more than 30 podcasts, nearly all concerning COVID-19, potential therapies and vaccines, and pandemics. His guests have been infectious disease scientists doing research or physicians in the trenches learning about the clinical manifestations of the virus and how to treat their patients.

Dr. Vincent Racaniello – Columbia University Virologist

Vincent’s podcasts are made for non-scientists to understand, but they are 1-2 hours long. Probably none of you has the time to listen that long. Therefore, I’m trying to listen to them so I can point you to episodes and minutes you may want to hear.

Podcast #622, released June 2, featured Dr. Emmie de Wit of the Rocky Mountain Labs in Montana. She’s a virologist doing drug and vaccine research in monkeys. Because Rocky Mountain Labs is one of the few places in the country with a high-safety-level facility, Dr. de Wit has worked with several dangerous viruses: SARS-1, MERS, pandemic influenza strains, and Ebola. Now she’s working with SARS-2.

I’ve boiled down Episode #622 to four segments totaling ~16 minutes.

  1. 26:05-26:35 – The spike protein of the virus coat initiates infection of a cell by attaching to the ACE2 protein (angiotensin converting enzyme 2) on the cell’s surface. Here Emmie tells how it took only days to identify ACE2 and confirm viral binding. Rich Condit, a virologist, was astonished by the speed. ACE2-binding by spike is a potential drug target.

 

  1. 37:15-39:44 – The PCR test (polymerase chain reaction), simple enough to be done on a large scale, detects the 30,000-nucleotide (or base) RNA chromosome of the virus. But, PCR is so sensitive that it can detect degradation fragments of the RNA, even though the person is no longer contagious. The only way to tell for sure is to detect viable virus in cell culture. This is hard to do and is only done in virology research labs. As a result, a person is considered infected and contagious if the PCR test is positive.

  1. 43:35-54:05 Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, is a nucleotide-analog that blocks the copying of the RNA chromosome to make more virus. Emmie showed that giving remdesivir to monkeys early (at 12-hours post infection) was very effective. But, humans don’t show symptoms for days, and, because remdesivir must be administered intravenously, patients are only given remdesivir if they are hospitalized. This is very late, and still there is a modest effect. Rich Condit talks about the possibility of producing an oral form of the drug. Then remdesivir could be taken earlier – maybe even at home – and might be very effective in humans.

 

  1. 58:25-60:40 This segment concerns a vaccine. (I’ll write more on this topic later, but you should know that there are three types of promising technologies: the viral protein-based, the viral gene-based, and the virus vector-based, in which a harmless virus carries a gene from a disease-producing virus for a protein that’s needed to infect cells.)2ff087415a5009984739aa8fde5d5d4a

Emmie tested a harmless chimpanzee adenovirus that was engineered to carry the COVID-19 spike gene. This adenovirus produces the coronavirus spike protein, needed for COVID-19 to infect cells. So, this harmless adenovirus should cause us to make antibodies that will block infection by COVID-19.

In Emmie’s experiment in monkeys, the vaccine worked so well that it allowed clinical trials to proceed in humans.

Stay Safe and Healthy!

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COVID-19 . . . It’s Everywhere! Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski Talks about Coronavirus

COVID-19 . . . It’s Everywhere!

Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski

Talks about Coronavirus

by David Figurski, Ph.D

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19.  Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion, I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus in these posts.)

COVID-19

David Columbia Award May 2017Because the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, including the brain injury community, I have added a new category called “COVID-19” to this blog. This category is for posting much-needed information and facts on the new coronavirus and the global pandemic it has caused.

The major reason I added the COVID-19 category is that I have unique access to a survivor of brain injury who is knowledgeable about this pandemic.

For 35 years, my husband, David, was a professor and did research in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University. He retired on September 1, 2013. In January 2005, David had a cerebellar hemorrhage. He survived a three-week

coronavirus-covid-19-design-vector

coma and three brain surgeries in the first two weeks of his coma. Unfortunately, he was left with many physical disabilities, but his cognitive brain was untouched, allowing him to return full-time to the faculty after 19 months. (Those 19 months are described in detail in my book Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale.) For 45 years, David did research on the molecular genetics of various microorganisms, including viruses.

02 Fork Yield Banner copyTo allow you to be introduced to David, I am reposting the link to my radio show of April 19, 2020, on the Brain Injury Radio Network called,  “Another Fork in the Road: BI Survivor/Columbia Prof Dr. David Figurski & Covid19.” (The link first appeared in my post on May 4, 2020.) David was my guest, and I interviewed him about his brain injury and about COVID-19. (Our discussion of COVID-19 begins at 49:50.)

David Figurski

David H. Figurski, Ph.D & Survivor of Brain Injury

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New NEWS: Dr. David Figurski Speaks Out About Coronavirus

Dr. David Figurski Speaks Out About Coronavirus

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

David Columbia Award May 2017

Professor David Figurski        Columbia University College of Physicians &Surgeons

 

“In graduate school, I worked with a virus that infects bacterial cells (bacteriophage T1). One T1 virus particle takes about 10-12 minutes to break open the E. coli cell and release over 100 new virus particles. Each new particle can infect a cell and produce over a hundred new virus particles. So, 10-12 minutes later, there are 10,000 viruses. I could do some experiments in the morning and have the results that afternoon.

0.40555600_1467108645_microbes

Random Petri Plate

To make stocks of the virus, we would infect a late culture of bacteria. A couple of hours later, all the bacterial cells were broken open, leaving only virus.

1800x1200_coronavirus_1

Coronavirus

 

 

 

Animal viruses, like coronavirus, probably take hours to reproduce, but each infected cell produces at least a thousand new virus particles.

Consequently, I have a healthy respect for viruses.”

David H. Figurski, Ph.D – Molecularbiologist

Columbia University Professor Emeritus

 

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(Photos compliments of contributor.)

As I say after each post:

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On the Air: Brain Injury Radio Another Fork in the Road . . . . . . Rosemary Rawlins, Author & Caregiver

On the Air: Brain Injury Radio Interview –

Another Fork in the Road

with

 Rosemary Rawlins, Author & Caregiver

images-1

When I closed down the studio last night after spending 90 minutes talking to Rosemary Rawlins about her life as a caregiver, I popped into my husband’s office. He had listened to the interview on his computer. He smiled and said, “Great interview! I wish it wasn’t over. I could have listened for another hour.” I knew exactly what he meant. I could have talked with Rosemary forever. Our stories, though different, run parallel to each other.

david-running-in-hall

David Figurski 3 weeks before his TBI

Both of our husbands were in the prime of their careers – doing what they loved best in their office/lab and after hours too. Hugh loved to ride his bicycle. David loved to run and exercise. Both Hugh and David exercised to relieve their daily stress. It was that exercise that caused their brain injuries.

Hugh Rawlins - racing

Hugh Rawlins – racing

Talking with Rosemary was refreshing. She really KNOWS what I went through, and I REALLY know what she went through. We GET IT!

Anyone who has “lost” a spouse to brain injury will totally understand and completely relate to Rosemary’s and my conversation. Please, go ahead! Eavesdrop on our tête-à-tête. We’d love you to.

 

Thank you, Rosemary, for sharing your story with me and my listeners on “Another Fork in the Road” on the Brain Injury Radio Network.

Rosemary & Hugh Rawlins 2

Rosemary & Hugh Rawlins – after TBI

 

 

Click the link below to listen to caregiver, Rosemary Rawlins (author of “Learning by Accident: A Caregiver’s True Story of Fear, Family, and Hope”), share her story of how she and Hugh pulled the pieces of their lives together.

 

See you “On the Air!”

 Rosemary Rawlins, Author & Caregiver

Click here for a list of all “Another Fork in the Road” shows on the Brain Injury Radio Network.

On the Air – Brain Injury Radio Interview with Dr. David Figurski Prisoner without Bars: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury

On the Air – Brain Injury Radio

Interview with Dr. David Figurski

Prisoner without Bars: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury

images-1

You’ve heard David’s story from my point of view. Yesterday David shared his perspective of living with traumatic brain injury. He spoke about how his life has greatly changed for better…and for worse.

david-running-in-hall-

David Figurski 3wks before Traumatic Brain Injury

We learned about David’s life as a child and his educational career, which he began as a Kindergarten dropout. He told of the years that led up to our marriage and also about his life as a Professor of Microbiology at Columbia University, both before and after his TBI. We found out how he is coping with this new life thrust upon him…and upon us. The show ends with me brushing tears from my cheeks as David talks about the heroic acts of caregivers and my role in his recovery.

12 D&D I Donna O'Donnell Figurski  & David Figurski Dancing 13 copy

David & Donna Figurski Starlight Dance Studio 8yrs after Traumatic Brain Injury

If you missed the show, don’t fret. You can always listen to the archived show. I’ve included the link below.

Please SHARE!

I hope you’ll tune in to my show, “Another Fork in the Road,” which airs the 1st and 3rd Sunday evenings of every month. The show starts at 5:00p Pacific Time and runs for 90 minutes. On the fifth Sunday in a month, Julie Kintz, Host of “Quantum Leap,” and I team up to cohost a show called “Another Quantum Leap in the Road.”

 

See you “On the Air!”

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