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Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

April 13, 2020

Mayo Clinic Research in the news: Week in review 4/13/2020

By Elizabeth Zimmermann

Another week, another set of stories. Very little hit the newstands in health care that wasn't COVID-19. However, you may rest assured, research continues into a wide range of health conditions, rare diseases and ways to improve health and health care.

We've included an excerpt and link to several of the news stories published in the past week that discuss Mayo Clinic Research.

Sen. Johnson says chloroquine should be used against COVID-19; Mayo doc says trials needed

By Rick Solem, WIZM Radio, 4/13/2020

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson on La Crosse Talk said Monday that the CDC has not been opposed to trying chloroquine against coronavirus, but, he argued, the medical community in the U.S. has been very slow to approve test uses for the drug.   According to Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, there’s still more to be learned. “Chloroquine is a drug that we use to treat and prevent malaria,” Ala S. Dababneh, M.D., said in an email. “We still don’t know if either hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine would treat COVID-19. Both treatments are used off label.

Questions remain over whether COVID-19 recovery will guarantee immunity: Is reinfection still possible? 

Understanding whether people build immunity could help reopen economies.

By Dr. Delaram J. Taghipour, ABC News 4/12/2020

"The canvas that we call COVID-19 was absolutely blank [at the start], it's so remarkable, inside this many weeks, you think of how many pixels we put on that canvas, it is astounding," said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group. "However, there are a lot of blanks on that canvas -- immunity and reinfection is one of those."

The New Coronavirus Appears To Take A Greater Toll On Men Than On Women

By Nell GreenfieldBoyce, NPR, 4/10/2020

… "This is to all of our men out there, no matter what age group: If you have symptoms, you should be tested and make sure that you are tested," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, said on Thursday.

Data from around 1.5 million tests done in the U.S. show that the majority of people tested, 56%, were women. Of those women, 16% tested positive for the virus. In contrast, only 44% of the tests were done on men. And 23% of them tested positive.

… Women have often been excluded from biomedical research, she explains. Historically, that was meant to protect women of childbearing age who might be pregnant, but over time it became scientific dogma that men and women's bodies, other than their reproductive systems, basically weren't that different. But sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen seem to be important in modulating the immune response, says Veena Taneja of the Mayo Clinic, who studies differences in male and female immune systems. What's more, she says, women also have two copies of the X chromosome, while men have only one. "The X chromosome has lots of immune-response genes," Taneja says.

Inside the hunt for a coronavirus test that could bring an end to lockdown 

Richard Hall speaks to a scientist working on a test that the US government hopes could allow people to return to work

By Richard Hall, The Independent (UK), 4/10/2020

The researchers begin tests this week to discover the effectiveness of using blood plasma from Covid-19 convalescents to trigger immunity to the virus.  Public health officials in the United States hope the tests could be used to clear people to return to work and restart the economy, but scientists working on the project have urged caution. “This can be used as a tool to help more strategically redeploy individuals back to work,” said Dr Elitza Theel, director of the Mayo Clinic laboratory that is behind the tests. “I don't know that it's going to be the magic bullet or the only thing that decides that, but it will probably play a role,” she told The Independent.

Mayo Clinic: COVID19 test could produce false negative results 

By Nick Kruszalnicki, KIMT TV, 4/9-4/10/2020

Mayo Clinic announced the main test for detecting coronavirus may have a drawback. According to its study, the test is very good at detecting positive cases of COVID-19, but the weakness is in detecting negative cases.  That means a situation could arise where someone tests negative and has no symptoms, when really they have had coronavirus all along. 

This antibody test could offer a clearer picture of how the body responds to COVID-19

By Fedor Kossakovski, PBS News Hour 4/9/2020 

These aren’t as much about detecting whether you have COVID-19, but instead whether you’ve ever been exposed to it — which would deepen our understanding of who is getting sick, particularly people who are asymptomatic. It could also allow people whose bodies seem to have some degree of immunity to the illness to return to work more quickly…“Imagine the value that could have in health care,” said Robin Patel, director of the Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic and the president of the American Society for Microbiology, “but, really, in many different fields as a return-to-work strategy where those individuals could resume normal activity.”

Minnesota officials to share modeling that influenced stay-at-home order after facing scrutiny

By Dana Ferguson, Post Bulletin, 4/9/2020

"You can’t get frustrated, go on a hunch and throw caution to the wind and pretend like our neighbors’ lives are somehow disposable,” [Minnesota Governor Tim] Walz said. “If they believe the Mayo Clinic is wrong, if they believe all nine of the health care associations are wrong, if they believe that the CDC is wrong, if they believe that the president’s guidance from the administration is wrong and if they believe 42 other states are wrong, then I value their opinion to say so, but we can’t go on a hunch.

Coronavirus Update: Mayo Researchers Highlight The Risk Posed By False Negatives 

  • WCCO, 4/9/2020

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic are warning about the impact false negative test results can have amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including the possibility of spawning a “second wave” of cases. In a study published this week, researchers at the esteemed hospital cautioned public officials against relying too heavily on the current testing technology, noting that its characteristics haven’t been reported consistently in the medical literature. …Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic and co-author of the study, said officials should expect a “less visible second wave of infection” from people who got false negatives and continued to spread the virus.

Top hospitals are experimenting with new blood tests that can tell if you've ever had the coronavirus. The tech could help send sidelined healthcare workers back to work and let people out of their homes. 

By Blake Dodge, Business Insider, 4/8/2020

Penn Medicine and the Mayo Clinic are working on tests that detect prior exposure to the novel coronavirus in healthcare workers. Two in a recent flood of efforts to grapple with immunity to a disease that's quarantined millions, the projects use "serology screening," or tests that detect antibodies in blood, to measure if people have been exposed to the virus at some point in the past — even in the absence of symptoms.

Scientists Want To Know Why More Men Than Women Are Apparently Dying Of COVID-19

By Nell GreenfieldBoyce, NPR, 4/8/2020

Men appear to be more likely to die from COVID-19 than women. Scientists have theories — women may have better immune systems, or sex hormones may play a role in the body's response to infection. Dr. Veena Taneja is interviewed.

After 9/11, we gave up privacy for security. Will we make the same trade-off after Covid-19?

By Casey Ross, Stat, 4/8/2020

After 9/11, we gave up privacy for security. Will we make the same trade-off after Covid-19?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has teamed up with Facebook, Mayo Clinic, and other organizations to create an app that collects information using a technique known as differential privacy, a way of publicly sharing information gleaned from a data set without identifying the individuals whose activities are represented.

“On the public health side, it is important to know what the trends are and potential paths of transmission,” said Suraj Kapa, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who worked on the project. He added that location data from phones could allow authorities to quickly zero in on circumstances where an infected person came in contact with a large gathering of people.

“You can find out that there may have been a mass exposure situation,” Kapa said. “And that allows you to intelligently drive testing and resources to address potential outbreaks.”

Mayo Clinic launches trials of blood test to detect who has recovered and might have immunity to coronavirus

By Joshua Nelson, Fox News, 4/8/2020

While the Mayo Clinic is conducting trials for a blood test that could detect people with immunity to the coronavirus, Dr. Bill Morice, president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, explained how it would work. “Unlike the molecular testing which detects the virus itself, the serologic testing is a blood test that we use to identify those who have been exposed to the [SARS-CoV-2] virus that causes the COVID disease and also have amounted to an immune response,” Morice told "Fox & Friends."

Opinion - When Will There Be a Treatment for the Coronavirus?  

A vaccine may not be our only hope.

By Spencer Bokat-Lindell, New York Times, 4/7/2020

For all of modern medicine’s advances, the immune system is still largely on its own when it comes to viruses: Of the 200 or so types that are known to infect humans, only about 10 have approved treatments, according to the science journalist Matthew Hutson.

The race is now on to make the coronavirus the 11th: With a vaccine at least a year away, an effective treatment may be the country’s best hope for making a recovery before next year. But how close are researchers to finding a drug that works? Here’s a look at where things stand. …

 “We’re as anxious to see this get done as anybody,” Dr. Gregory A. Poland, the director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group, told Mr. Boyle. “Yet at the same time, if we aren’t deliberate and careful, we could harm people. We have to remember that.”

Mayo Clinic cardiologist: 'Inexcusable' to ignore hydroxychloroquine side effects 

While safe for most, the drug carries serious side effects for some, including sudden cardiac arrest.

By Heidi Przybyla, NBC News, 4/7/2020

As the U.S. scales up purchase and use of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus patients, a leading Mayo Clinic cardiologist is sounding a warning: Anyone promoting the drug also needs to flag its rare but serious — and potentially fatal — side effects. …

After observing the debate over hydroxychloroquine on TV news and in social media, Dr. Michael Ackerman, a genetic cardiologist who is director of the Mayo Clinic's Windland Smith Rice Genetic Heart Rhythm Clinic, took the unusual step in late March of issuing guidance for physicians. "What disturbed me the most was when I was seeing not political officials say these medications are safe but seeing on the news cardiologists and infectious disease specialists say" hydroxychloroquine "is completely safe without even mentioning this rare side effect," Ackerman said in an interview.

COVID-19 seems to be hitting smokers more severely, scientists warn 

By Avis Favaro, Elizabeth St. Philip, Alexandra Mae Jones, CTV, 4/6-4/7/2020

With COVID-19 cases soaring, health care officials are trying to get ahead of the worst by looking at who is most at risk of ending up in the ICU and on ventilators if they catch the virus.

High on that list is smokers. …

Dr. Neal Patel, a critical care specialist and pulmonologist with the Mayo Clinic says cigarette smoke damages tissues in the lungs. “It destroys the cilia in the lungs … as well as in the nasal pharynx,” Patel said. He explained that “the cilia are tiny hairlike follicles that help to trap damaged viruses, debris, and move that debris upwards, out of your lungs so it doesn't stay there and cause issues.”

Here's what you need to know about hydroxychloroquine 

By Nathaniel Weixel, The Hill, 4/6/2020

There is no proven treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

But an old malaria medicine called hydroxychloroquine has made headlines as a potential key to treating the disease. President Trump has repeatedly highlighted the drug, touting hydroxychloroquine and a related drug called chloroquine as a possible “miracle.” 

But why the sudden burst of attention? Has it been tested? What does the drug even do? And importantly, can it really help COVID-19 patients?

Mayo Clinic plasma therapy trial underway, blood donors needed

By Miguel Octavio, KAAL TV, 4/6/2020

Health leaders are doing everything in their power to stop COVID-19 from claiming another life as the number of cases continues to rise.

"If we can help keep sick people out of the ICU or reduce the length of time, that will reduce overall pressure on the healthcare system,” said Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Michael Joyner.

Joyner leads the convalescent plasma therapy program. The process consists of using plasma from recovered patients of COVID-19.

Antibodies used for treatment could help people recover from the disease faster. The FDA announced Mayo Clinic would lead the national trial on April 3.

Coronavirus debate: Could blood pressure meds make COVID-19 less — or more — deadly?

— Greater Milwaukee Today, 4/6/2020

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, medical experts are debating whether blood pressure-lowering drugs that are taken by many millions of people worldwide might make COVID-19 more deadly — or less so.

Several professional medical organizations have said no evidence exists to justify changing guidelines for prescribing the drugs, called angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEI) and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB). The medications are mainstays of treating hypertension, heart disease, heart failure, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

Now, two separate reviews of existing studies — one published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the other in Mayo Clinic Proceedings — speculate that the drugs may be helpful for coronavirus patients.

Why Will It Take So Long for a COVID-19 Vaccine? 

By Dennis Thompson, U.S. News, 4/6-4/7/2020

Public health officials have been warning that a COVID-19 vaccine will not be available to the public for 12 to 18 months, dampening hopes that there will be a quick end to the global pandemic nightmare. …

Essentially, you can speed up the vaccine development process to respond to a pandemic, but you don't want to speed it up so much that you allow a bad vaccine to enter the market, explained Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group. "The process of developing, testing and licensing a vaccine for widespread population use is designed to be slow, deliberative, peer-reviewed, reflective, evidence-based, so that we don't make mistakes," Poland said. Going too fast could lead to a vaccine that's not effective or, worse, can cause serious health problems, Poland said.

FDA names Mayo Clinic to lead national plasma program

  • KARE 11 TV, 4/6/2020

Researchers around the world are looking at different ways to treat patients with COVID-19. One of those ways is through convalescent plasma therapy.


For Mayo Clinic stories, videos, podcasts and other current resources related to COVID-19, visit our mini site.

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Tags: Ala S. Dababneh, antibodies, blood test, cardiology, clinical trials, COVID-19, Elitza Theel, epidemiology, Gregory Poland, ICU, immune system, Mayo Clinic Health System, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Michael Ackerman, Neal Patel, News, News of the Week, plasma, population health, Priya Sampathkumar, Robin Patel, Suraj Kapa, vaccines, Veena Taneja, William Morice, women's health

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