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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 . . . Breakthrough in Basic Research May Defeat COVID-19

Breakthrough in Basic Research May Defeat 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 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

 

Exciting results indicate that a novel idea might bring COVID-19 under control.  The new technology has been shown to work at the lab bench.  Now scientists are doing animal studies and, later, human studies.

Scientists at Boston University (BU) and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) have made coated nanoparticles that are covered with pieces of lung cell membrane. (About 1000 tiny particles, or “nanoparticles,” can line up in the space equal to the width of a human hair.) The coated nanoparticles mimic the lung cells that normally bind the virus and allow an infection to start.  But, when the virus tries to infect a coated nanoparticle, the virus dies.  Essentially, the coated nanoparticle is a lethal decoy.

Research in the lab indicates that the new technology might be able to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, if the technology works in humans, coated nanoparticles will likely be important for inactivating other viruses and for dealing with future pandemics.

Specific nanoparticles can be made to mimic any cell that any virus infects.  So, coated nanoparticles can be made that are specific for any virus (for example, for influenza virus or for Ebola virus).  Also, once the cell normally infected by a previously unknown virus to start an infection has been identified (as it was for COVID-19), the relevant coated nanoparticles can be made. So, a novel virus can be inactivated even though little is known about the molecular details of its biology.

Scientists were surprised to learn that the coated nanoparticles for COVID-19 bind the SARS-2 coronavirus even better than the lung cells normally infected by the virus.  So, this approach for COVID-19 is likely be very efficient.

In COVID-19 infections, sometimes the immune response is too active and causes severe disease or death.  The dexamethasone breakthrough I wrote about earlier works by dampening the immune response.  The scientists surprisingly found that coating another batch of nanoparticles with membrane pieces from cells of the immune system also dampened the immune response.

The scientists envision a protective coated nanoparticle mixture for COVID-19 that has two types of coated nanoparticles (one that mimics the lung cells that are infected and another that dampens the immune response). The mixture would be simply administered as a nasal spray.

 

Stay Safe and Healthy!

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COVID-19 — It’s Everywhere . . . Drug Breakthrough Significantly Prevents COVID-19 Deaths

Drug Breakthrough Significantly Prevents COVID-19 Deaths

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

Research at the University of Oxford in England showed for the first time that a drug prevented a major fraction of deaths in severely sick patients with COVID-19.

Dexamethasone was found in a large clinical trial to cause a significant reduction in deaths. It can be prescribed as pills, and it is a common, readily available, and relatively inexpensive drug

A major problem after infection by COVID-19 is that the immune response of some individuals is too aggressive (often causing what’s called a “cytokine storm”) and can lead to death. Because dexamethasone is a steroid that dampens the immune response, the prediction was that it might help to prevent deaths by COVID-19.

The research showed that it does.

There are about 3 deaths for every 8 patients on ventilators.  Dexamethasone treatment reduced those deaths by one-third.  So, 1 death would be prevented for every 8 patients on ventilators.  About 5 deaths occur in every 25 patients on oxygen only. Dexamethasone treatment reduced those deaths by one-fifth, or about 1 less death for every 25 patients on oxygen only. Dexamethasone treatment had no effect on patients not on ventilators or receiving oxygen only.

Given that a major fraction of the over 118,000 deaths in the US so far (at 6:00 pm ET on June 18, 2020) were on ventilators or oxygen only, dexamethasone treatment is predicted to prevent many deaths.

The UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said: “This is a ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease, and the speed at which researchers have progressed finding an effective treatment is truly remarkable.”

 

Stay Safe and Healthy!

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COVID-19 — It’s Everywhere . . . Vaccine is Possible

COVID-19 . . . Evidence that a Vaccine is Possible

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

The 100+ labs trying to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 were delighted with a study showing that COVID-19 stimulates a strong antibody response in humans. Scientists from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) demonstrated that a vaccine for COVID-19 is definitely possible.

The scientists studied blood from mildly sick individuals who recovered. They found a high level of antibodies to the spike protein, used by COVID-19 to infect.

The strong antibody response suggests that immunity will occur in humans and will last a while, but no one knows for how long – weeks? months? years?

The scientists were surprised by another result. For you also to understand it, I have to give you some background. (Sorry!)

There are seven coronaviruses that infect humans.

Four are common and cause mild, cold-like symptoms.  We’ve all probably had one or more of these.

Three coronaviruses (SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 <which causes COVID-19>, and MERS- CoV) cause serious human disease and some fatalities.

Blood taken before COVID-19 even existed in humans nevertheless showed the presence of antibodies that reacted with COVID-19.  Infection with one of the mild coronaviruses may have stimulated the body’s production of some antibodies that cross-react with COVID-19.

Some seemingly healthy individuals have died from COVID-19. In contrast, some people not predicted to do well had mild disease or were asymptomatic. Doctors are perplexed by their inability to predict who will recover.

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

One possibility is that the amount of cross-reactive antibodies arising from previous infection with one or more of the mild coronaviruses may determine how well a COVID-19-infected person will do.

 

Stay Safe and Healthy!

 

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COVID-19 — It’s Everywhere . . . To Open or Not to Open

COVID-19 . . . To Open or Not to Open

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, PhD — Brain Injury Survivor — Professor Emeritus of Microbiology & Immunology — Columbia University

 

Some governors say “Open.” Scientists say “Don’t open.” Whom do you believe?

I’m a scientist.  I know where I stand.

Below are some facts to help you decide.

For those of you in the west, the coronavirus infections have just begun.  You can see from the map of May 19 (see below) that infections are still moving westward.

Coronavirus Map – New York Times – 05/19/20

Many people, particularly those in the west, don’t seem to understand that the US is still in the early stages of this pandemic. They are lulled by the low number of cases in their state. The numbers are misleading for two reasons.

(1) Only seriously symptomatic (mostly hospitalized) people and celebrities are being tested because the US is seriously in need of more testing.  (2) The virus has not reached you yet. (That’s the especially true in the western half of the US.)

New York City is still very bad, but strict social-distancing guidelines have produced a significant drop in new cases.

Washington State had the potential to become a major hot spot, but they acted quickly and aggressively.

In contrast, several states are opening up and relaxing guidelines, despite a continued rise in new cases.  (That’s the case here in Arizona, where Governor Ducey allowed restaurants to open this week. This decision is particularly horrifying because the pandemic hasn’t really reached us yet.)

Reported cases in the United States

(Every red dot represents a cluster of infections – probably started by an infected asymptomatic traveler.  Right now, most cases are in the east, but every day you see more red dots in the western half of the US.)

 

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

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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On the Air: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guest: Dr. David Figurski

On the Air: Guest: Dr. David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

David Figurski

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

 

Dr. David Figurski, retired professor of microbiology, talks about his brain injury and COVID-19

I don’t often publicize my radio show on the Brain Injury Radio Network, but one of our brain injury survivors is knowledgeable about the COVID-19 pandemic, which I’m sure is on your mind.  Like me, you probably have lots of questions.

My guest on the April 19th show was my husband, Dr. David Figurski.  David has been living with several physical disabilities since January 2005, when he had a brain hemorrhage, but, fortunately, after three brain surgeries in two weeks, he was unaffected cognitively.  For 35 years, including eight years after his traumatic brain injury, David was a professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University, where he also had a research lab.  David has done research on bacteria and viruses for 45 years.  Unsurprisingly, he has been very interested in the new human coronavirus and the global pandemic it has caused.news-clipart-news-anchor-4

My 80-minute show was live on April 19th, but it was recorded and can now be listened to at any time as a podcast.  My interview of David has two parts.  From 9:30 to 49:50, David and I talk about life with his brain injury.  From 49:50 to the end, David and I discuss the COVID-19 pandemic.

To Listen Go To:

SPEAK OUT! On the Air with . . . Brain Injury Radio Show Menu “Another Fork in the Road”

blogtalkradio.com/braininjuryradio/2020/04/20/another-fork-in-the-road-bi-survivorcolumbia-prof-dr-david-figurski-covid19

 

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