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How sharks could help in the fight against coronaviruses

11/01/2022

Sharks could potentially help in the fight against COVID-19, new research suggests. According to the study by researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota and biomedical company Elasmogen, a biomedical company in Scotland, antibody-like proteins derived from sharks' immune systems can prevent SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, its variants, and related coronaviruses from infecting human cells. The small, unique shark cells, known as VNARs, are around one-tenth the size of human antibodies, which allows them to reach even the tiniest of areas. The researchers found the VNARs can bind to infectious proteins in unique ways that bolster their ability to halt infection. Intriguingly, they were not just effective against SARS-CoV-2 , but also SARS-CoV-1, which caused the first SARS outbreak in 2003. While the researchers say their findings will not help in the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as treatments using shark VNARs simply aren't yet available, they could hold some promise in the face of future coronavirus outbreaks. "The big issue is there are a number of coronaviruses that are poised for emergence in humans," says Aaron LeBeau, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of pathology who helped lead the study. "What we're doing is preparing an arsenal of shark VNAR therapeutics that could be used down the road for future SARS outbreaks. It's a kind of insurance against the future." The team published its findings in Nature Communications. *image courtesy of Andrea Bohl from Pixabay 

New Covid-19 treatments to be made available in France later this year

26/08/2021

New Covid-19 treatments should be widely available in France before the end of the year, the head of the country's Scientific Council has predicted. According to a report in Le Parisien newspaper, Jean-François Delfraissy, an immunologist and president of the Conseil scientifique, which advises the government on medical matters, said monoclonal and polyclonal antibody treatments would be made more widely available in the coming months. Monoclonal antibody treatments are made using Covid-19 survivors’ own antibodies and are designed to fight infection just as the natural immune system would. Former US President Donald Trump received monoclonal antibody drugs when he was hospitalised with Covid-19 in 2020. At the beginning of August, French health authorities authorised the use of monoclonal antibody treatments for immuno-compromised patients who cannot be vaccinated against the virus because of their conditions. The treatments are set to be rolled out for use as required by doctors among the wider population before the end of the year. A number of pharmaceutical companies are in the process of applying for medical authorisation. They would be “effective for high-risk patients, and should reduce the number of hospitalisations”, Le Parisien reported, but would only be available under medical supervision. The drugs are intended for use in patients who are already severely ill with Covid. They do not prevent people developing the illness in the first place. *Image by Klaus Hausmann from Pixabay 

Moderna says its vaccine will work against new COVID variants

26/01/2021

With reports emerging that several different COVID variants are now circulating around the world, Moderna has released a statement saying it believes its vaccine protects against at least two of the new strains. Moderna Inc said on Monday it believes its COVID-19 vaccine protects against both new variants found in Britain and South Africa. However, the American pharmaceutical and biotechnology company also said it will test a separate booster shot aimed at the South African variant after concluding the antibody response could be diminished. The company said in a press release that it found no reduction in the antibody response against the variant found in Britain. Against the South African variant, Moderna said it found a reduced response but still believed its two-dose regimen would provide protection. The emergence of new COVID variants in Britain, South Africa and Brazil has created some concern that mutations in the virus may make vaccines less effective. Moderna’s announcement will serve to alleviate some of that concern, but the proof will be in the infection numbers going forward. Moderna shares rose nearly 10% off the back of the news during Monday trading. Moderna said it plans to publish data from its tests against the variants on the website bioRxiv.

Coronavrius: Oxford vaccine appears safe, triggers immune response

21/07/2020

A coronavirus vaccine developed by the Universality of Oxford and AstraZeneca appears safe and triggers an immune response that should protect people against infection. According to a trial of the vaccine involving 1,077 participants, the findings of which are published in The Lancet, the vaccine led to individuals making antibodies and T-cells that fight SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus. Within just 14 days of receiving the vaccine, participants’ T-cell levels peaked. After 28 days participants’ antibody levels peaked. Both T-cells and antibodies are crucial in the body’s immune defence of viruses, which is why any effective vaccine needs to induce both in the people who receive it. But while the findings are immensely promising, more research is needed to determine exactly how safe the vaccine is, whether it can indeed provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 and how long any protection would last. Nevertheless, the UK has already ordered 100m doses of the vaccine. Prof Andrew Pollard, from the Oxford research group, told the BBC: “We're really pleased with the results published today as we're seeing both neutralising antibodies and T-cells. “They're extremely promising and we believe the type of response that may be associated with protection. “But the key question everyone wants to know is does the vaccine work, does it offer protection... and we're in a waiting game.” The next step is for more than 10,000 people to take part in the next stage of the trial to further determine how safe the vaccine is. [Related reading: World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine]

COVID-19 immunity could be lost in months, UK study suggests

14/07/2020

People who have recovered from COVID-19 and gained immunity to the disease could lose it again within months, a new study from the UK suggests. According to the research by a team from King’s College London, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) could reinfect people year after year, much like common colds. Having studied the immune responses of more than 90 patients and healthcare workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, the researchers found that COVID-19 antibody levels peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms.  [Related reading: Coronavirus: Immunity levels likely to be higher than antibody tests suggest] Blood tests revealed that while 60% of COVID-19 patients displayed a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the disease, this figure fell to just 17% three months later. In some cases, antibody levels became undetectable. The findings of the study have implications when it comes to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as achieving greater herd immunity. The bottom line is that if antibody levels drop over time and people are able to be reinfected seasonally, a vaccine would not actually provide any long-term benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Katie Doores, lead author from King’s College London, said: “People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying around.”

Coronavirus: Immunity levels likely to be higher than antibody tests suggest

02/07/2020

More people have immunity to coronavirus than antibody tests suggest, new research shows. The study from Sweden found that for every person who tested positive for antibodies — which are usually a strong indicator of whether someone has previously had an infection — two were found to have specific T-cells which identify and destroy infected cells. According to the research from the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden, even individuals who had mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 had T-cells, despite testing negative for antibodies. The research is important because it could mean that more people than first thought have immunity to COVID-19. However, it is not yet clear whether this just protects the individual, or if it also stops them from passing on the infection to others. Prof Danny Altmann at Imperial College London described the study as “robust, impressive and thorough" and said it added to a growing body of evidence that "antibody testing alone underestimates immunity”. The results of the study are so new that they have not undergone peer review, nor been published in a scientific journal. Nevertheless, they can be seen as good news from a public health perspective as they indicate that public immunity to COVID-19 is likely a lot higher than first thought.

Research shows warmer temperatures do slow COVID-19 transmission (but not by much)

02/06/2020

Research shows warmer temperatures do slow COVID-19 transmission (but not by much) Warmer temperatures have long been associated with reduced transmission rates of some respiratory viruses. It’s one of the reasons why flu tends to have a much larger impact during winter months. Therefore, it stands to reason that the spread of SARS-CoV-2 could also be slowed or even halted as countries start to experience warmer temperatures. Now, research seems to have confirmed what many people have thought. For the study, researchers from the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts looked at the effect of temperature, precipitation, and UV index on COVID-19 case rates in the United States from January 22, 2020 through April 3, 2020. They found the rate of COVID-19 incidence does decrease as temperatures get warmer, up until 52 degrees F. After that, virus transmission does not decrease significantly. Furthermore, while the overall impact remains modest, a higher UV index also assists in slowing the growth rate of new cases. Precipitation was not found to have any impact on the spread of the virus. The findings will comes as welcome news as many states in America see warmer weather easing in. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen again in the fall and winter as temperatures drop. [Related reading: What is COVID-19 antibody testing (and why is it useful?)]

What is COVID-19 antibody testing (and why is it useful?)

28/05/2020

There have been numerous reports recently about how both the European Union and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have now approved certain COVID-19 antibody tests. But what are these tests for and are they useful in the overall fight against the pandemic? An antibody test basically checks your blood for antibodies. These are made when your body fights an infection, like if you had COVID-19. The test isn’t actually looking for the infection itself, rather signs that your body has built a defense against it i.e. you had the infection and your body responded accordingly. One of the valuable outcomes of antibody tests is that they help us ascertain just how many people have potentially had the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This helps build a fuller picture of the virus’ spread, as well as calculate how many people there are out there who could still potentially get it. Such information could help in the development of strategies to safeguard communities and possibly allow for more freedom of movement. Antibody tests could also help identify individuals who have had COVID-19 and whose blood could be used to help those fighting the disease. [Related reading: Losing sleep over the COVID-19 outbreak? These 5 tips will help]

Major HIV breakthrough: New antibody attacks 99% of strains

26/09/2017

Scientists have developed a new antibody that can kill 99% of HIV strains and even prevent infections in primates. It works by attacking three different parts of the virus, making it difficult for HIV to resist its effects. The antibody, which has been engineered by scientists at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conjunction with pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, has been hailed as an “exciting breakthrough” by the International Aids Society. The human body struggles to fight HIV because of the virus’s incredible ability to mutate and change. As a result, the immune system finds itself combatting multiple strains all at once – a task that is insurmountable. Human trials will now commence in 2018 to see whether the antibody can prevent and treat infections. Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors, said the new antibody is “more potent” and has “greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that's been discovered”. Until now, the best naturally occurring antibodies target 90% of HIV strains. At 99%, the new antibody is significantly more powerful. The findings of the study were published in the journal Science.

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