Coronavirus Treatment: MIT research team comes up with new approach for COVID-19 patients

Bulbul Dhawan
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Coronavirus Outbreak: While researchers all over the world are struggling to find a proper cure for COVID-19, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Colorado have come up with a short-term fix to help patients suffering from acute respiratory distress, according to a campus report on MIT website. The measure devised by the researchers includes repurposing a drug which is used to treat blood clots. They believe the repurposed drug would be able to help patients in cases where ventilators are either not proving effective or are not available altogether.

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The report said that three hospitals in Massachusetts and Colorado were planning to test the approach to treat severely ill patients of COVID-19.

The drug involved in the approach is a protein called tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) and it is usually administered to those suffering from heart attacks and strokes. The approach, the campus report said, was based using the data from China and Italy, where researchers found that COVID-19 patients were profoundly suffering from blood clotting, aggravating their respiratory problem.

Background of the study

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine based on China's Wuhan had earlier pointed out 5% patients of COVID-19 were required intensive care and another 2.3% needed a ventilator. In the US, health officials have been worrying that they might not have enough ventilators to support the patients who might need it. Moreover, it was found that in China and Italy, a significant number of patients needing a ventilator died despite receiving maximum possible care, indicating a need to change the present mechanism of providing treatment.

How will the treatment work?

The treatment proposed by the team from MIT and University of Colorado has been devised on years of research looking into the functioning of lungs during respiratory failure. The research paper stated that in such patients, blood clots form within the lungs, and can be accompanied by very small clots known as microthrombi in the blood vessels of the lungs. Microthrombi prevent the blood from reaching the air spaces within the lungs, which is where the blood is usually oxygenated.

The research team is of the opinion that TPA, which helps in dissolving blood clots, might be able to help patients in acute respiratory distress. TPA is a natural protein within the body and it converts plasminogen into plasmin, an enzyme which breaks down the clots. This protein is given in larger amounts to patients of heart attacks or victims of strokes so that the clots causing these attacks can be dissolved.

The study said that experiments on animals as well as one human trial, which was conducted back in 2001, showed potential benefits that this approach might be able to treat victims of respiratory distress.

Quoting senior author of the paper Michael Yaffe, the campus report said that if the approach were to work, it could work on a large scale as all hospitals have the drug in their pharmacies. There is no need to develop a new drug or conduct more tests, it is just a matter of using the same drug for another purpose, he added.

He further said that the 2001 study is the only one testing the usage of plasminogen activators in respiratory failure in humans, mostly because ventilators have been working well in respiratory problems. However, he added, the ventilators seem to be failing in case of many COVID-19 patients. The Colorado and MIT team came up with the idea to test the treatment because they have been studying the inflammation and abnormal bleeding which could occur in lungs after traumatic injuries and it turned out that in COVID-19 patients also, tissue damage linked to inflammation was found.