heart failure

New research has identified a possible mechanism for blood clotting issues in some COVID-19 patients.

A new study suggests a possible mechanism for the elevated presence of blood clots in COVID-19 patients.

The research, published in the journal Circulation, may help clinicians develop more effective treatments for COVID-19.

The sudden emergence and rapid global spread of the new coronavirus have meant clinical responses have focused on supporting those with severe infections, supplemented with emergency societal interventions, such as widespread social distancing, to reduce infection rates.

Because SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, previous treatments developed for similar strains will not necessarily work. Instead, possible therapies need to be identified in theory, tested and, once safe, implemented in the real world. However, this all takes time.

SARS-CoV-2 is mainly a danger because for some patients — particularly those with certain underlying health conditions, compromised immune systems, or who are later in life — a type of severe acute respiratory syndrome can develop, similar to pneumonia.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, makes a person’s lungs inflamed.

COVID-19 and coagulation

According to an interview in The Guardian with Prof. John Wilson, president-elect of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, if this inflammation is severe, inflammatory material can collect in the bottom of a person’s lungs. This can make it difficult for them to gain enough oxygen into their blood, cause organs to shut down, and potentially lead to death.

However, in addition to this pneumonia-like reaction, clinicians have also noticed that patients with COVID-19 can develop organ damage in a way not directly linked to a lack of oxygen in the blood. This is particularly common in the kidneys and heart.

There is some evidence that a problem with blood coagulation causes this organ damage. Coagulation is the process where a person’s blood thickens. It is crucial in stopping a person from bleeding if they get a cut.

However, if a person’s blood coagulates too much or too little, they can have serious issues: too little, and they can develop internal or external bleeding, as seen in hemophilia. Too much and they could develop blood clots that can cause a stroke or heart attack.

The authors of the recent study note that COVID-19 may increase coagulation in some people’s blood, which consequently causes organ damage as blood vessels become blocked. However, it is not yet clear how or why this occurs, which impedes the development of effective treatments.

Neutrophils and platelets

In the study, the researchers studied 62 patients, including autopsies on five of whom had died. Of these individuals, 38 had confirmed COVID-19.

After conducting multidimensional flow cytometry — a way of measuring the presence of particular cells in a fluid — and comparing these results to the control groups, the researchers identified a significant number of neutrophils and platelets in the subjects.

Neutrophils are a type of immune cell that combat pathogens entering the body, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while platelets are a type of blood cell necessary for coagulation.

The researchers found that these two cells seemed to react to and activate one another, resulting in excessive coagulation, blockage of blood vessels, and serious damage to nearby tissue.

Furthermore, when activated, the neutrophils exude web-like structures designed to help them trap bacteria, but experts believe they exacerbate the blocking of blood vessels.

According to Dr. Konstantin Stark, of the University Hospital Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich, Germany, and a co-author of the paper:

“These findings contribute to a better understanding of the pathophysiology that underlie disease progression in COVID-19. The study also identifies immunothrombosis as a promising target for the prevention and treatment of lung failure and thrombotic complications that arise in cases of COVID 19.”

A review suggests smoking and vaping could increase the severity of COVID-19 due to blood vessel damage and a higher risk of stroke.

“There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that, as well as the respiratory symptoms of COVID-19, the disease can also cause, among others, neurological effects.”

A recent report from a neurological hospital in the United Kingdom identifies cases of delirium, brain inflammation, nerve damage, and stroke in COVID-19 patients.

Reports of stroke in COVID-19 are particularly prevalent. Some reports estimate that 30% of critically ill COVID-19 patients experience blood clots. And if they occur in the brain, they may trigger a stroke.

Researchers from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center previously found that smoking and vaping increases the risk of viral infection. They have now published a review on how these activities might affect the risk of neurological dysfunction in COVID-19, particularly from damage to blood vessels in the brain.

They found that both smoking and vaping could increase the risk of stroke in COVID-19 due to damage to the blood-brain barrier and a higher risk of blood clots.

The details are published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Higher risk of blood clots

Smoking causes well-known damage to the lungs and respiratory system. Previous research has shown that it also makes a person more vulnerable to influenza.

Smoking can also affect the vascular system in the brain, prompting the researchers to review the evidence on how this activity might influence the neurological symptoms of people who contract COVID-19.

They first looked at the evidence on SARS-CoV-2 and neurological disorders, including stroke. They found one study which showed that 36.4% of COVID-19 patients had neurological symptoms. Another paper found five cases of sudden stroke in COVID-19 patients aged 30–40 years due to abnormal blood clotting in their large arteries.

But how does this relate to smoking? The researchers explain that when the body is deprived of oxygen, which occurs with smoking, the amount of clotting factors in the blood increase.

In combination with COVID-19, which also increases blood-clotting proteins, the risk of stroke rises.

“COVID-19 seems to have this ability to increase the risk for blood coagulation, as does smoke. This may ultimately translate in higher risk for stroke.” – Luca Cucullo, Ph.D., Center for Blood-Brain Barrier Research, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

What about vaping?

Although there is less evidence around vaping, the authors found studies that show vape aerosol components can harm blood vessels in the brain.

Vaping also appears to affect the blood-brain barrier, the defensive structure which protects the brain from toxins and pathogens in the blood.

The researchers also found specific evidence that long-term vaping may increase the risk of stroke.

Vaping may also make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19 by increasing the number of ACE2 receptors expressed in the body, which are used by the novel coronavirus to infect cells. Smoking can also increase expression of the ACE2 receptor, and damages the blood-brain barrier.

More research needed

The authors conclude that smoking and vaping may increase the severity of COVID-19 by increasing expression of the ACE2 receptor, which allows the virus to infect more cells. They were also found to damage the blood-brain barrier, which increases the risk of neurological complications.

There is an elevated risk of stroke in COVID-19 patients who smoke due to increased blood clotting factors in the blood.

However, the authors say more research is needed, including comparisons of autopsy samples from COVID-19 patients who did or did not smoke, and further animal studies.

A new study shows that a compound in pickled capers activates channels that are important for the activity of the heart and brain. The findings could potentially lead to the design of new drugs for epilepsy and arrhythmia.

People have practiced traditional or folk medicine — which the Western world generally considers alternative medicine — for centuries, and it remains the mainstay of healthcare in many countries.

Much traditional medicine relies on the use of plants, which have been the basis of medical treatments for thousands of years. Sometimes, researchers examine this traditional knowledge, interpret it in modern scientific terms, and then translate it into Western medicine.

Aspirin, for example, comes from willow plants and has played a role in medicine since ancient Egyptian times, long before people understood its mechanism of action.

A new study from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine shows a similar story for capers, which people around the world consume and also use in traditional medicine.

The study, which appears in Communications Biology, finds that a compound in pickled capers activates potassium channels that regulate the activity of the heart and brain.

The researchers say that their findings could aid the design of new drugs for epilepsy and arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms).

A food with ancient origins

The authors of the study note that humans have been eating capers for more than 10,000 years. Findings in soil deposits in Syria and late Stone Age cave dwellings in modern day Greece and Israel have shown this to be true.

The ancient Roman cookbook “Apicius” also mentions capers. People continue to use them in traditional medicine for their antihelminthic, anticancer, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties and their possible circulatory and gastrointestinal benefits.

The research team behind the current study has now shown how capers act on the body, which includes activating a potassium channel important for heart and brain activity.

The researchers started looking at capers based on the results from a screen of plant extracts. They screened a range of extracts for activity on a family of potassium channels called KCNQ channels.

The KCNQ family of potassium channels plays several important roles in the body, including regulating the heartbeat, the contraction of muscles, and the function of the gastrointestinal tract. Their dysfunction is associated with certain diseases, including diabetes, arrhythmia, and epilepsy.

The importance of pickling

The researchers used an extract from pickled capers, the most common form in the United States, and found that a 1% extract was able to activate the channels.

The pickling process causes the formation of quercetin, which is the compound that activates KCNQ channels.

Further experiments with quercetin found that it binds to a part of the channels responsible for sensing electrical activity. This binding causes the channels to open when they would otherwise be closed, which may underlie the medicinal properties of capers.

Although capers are the richest natural source of quercetin, the authors note that other plant-derived compounds, such as E-2-dodecenal (present in cilantro), are more potent activators of KCNQ channels.

However, the authors also found that these compounds can work together. So, while eating capers alone may not have a significant effect, eating them together with other specific foods, such as cilantro, could increase their benefits.

Quercetin is also very common in food, being present in apples, berries, celery, chili peppers, and onions, as well as green tea and red wine. The compound may, therefore, accumulate in the body over time to provide benefits. Research has also shown that adding quercetin to food is safe, although this practice does not currently exist in the U.S.

Drugs to treat epilepsy and arrhythmia

Outside of food, the researchers say that their findings could help medicinal chemists design new drugs.

“Increasing the activity of KCNQ channels in different parts of the body is potentially highly beneficial. Synthetic drugs that do this have been used to treat epilepsy and show promise in preventing abnormal heart rhythms.” – corresponding author Geoffrey Abbott, Ph.D.

Researchers are also investigating capers for their potential benefits against cancer, diabetes, and various inflammatory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal diseases. Understanding how capers act on the body on a molecular level could, therefore, lead to a wide range of new treatments.

A panic attack is a sudden, intense episode of overwhelming fear and anxiety. There are several ways to help a person who is having a panic attack. These include using grounding techniques and helping them get their breathing under control.

In this article, we discuss how to help someone during a panic attack. We cover grounding tips, early warning signs, and when to get help.

How to help someone during a panic attack

Due to the extreme nature of the symptoms, it is important to understand how to react when someone has a panic attack, as they may feel as though they are dying during an episode.

Certain strategies and methods can help alleviate panic, ease the situation, and even stop the symptoms from getting worse. The ways a person can help include:

Remaining calm

Panic attacks are unpredictable and happen for different reasons. Among those who experience panic attacks, some may only have a couple of attacks in their lifetime, while others have recurrent attacks. One 2016 report shows that most people who have one panic attack will likely have more.

As panic attacks come without warning, they can be very scary, and it is important for everyone else to stay calm. A panicked response can make the situation worse.

Symptoms of a panic attack typically reach peak intensity in 10 minutes. So it is important that people act quickly to help alleviate the symptoms where possible.

Making conversation and positive affirmations

What a person says in response to someone having a panic attack is just as important as what they do. Engaging in conversation can distract from the extreme symptoms and help the person regulate their breathing. It is important to ask whether a person requires help rather than just assuming that they do. Here are some guidelines on what to say and do:

  • Ask questions: Introduce yourself and ask if the person needs help. If so, ask them if they think that they are having a panic attack and whether they have had one before. This prompt may remind them about previous attacks and how they recovered.
  • Stay or go: Let the person know that they do not have to stay where they are. Leaving a certain situation can take the pressure off someone having a panic attack. Find out what makes them feel most comfortable.
  • Kind words: Staying positive and nonjudgmental is important. Help the person understand that you are there to assist them, they are safe, and they are going to get through this. Remind them that the panic attack is only temporary.
  • Have a friendly conversation: An engaging chat can help distract a person from their symptoms. If you are a friend, gently bring up a topic that they are interested in to help them think of something else.

Suggesting grounding techniques

When a person has lost control of themselves and their surroundings, grounding techniques can help them come back to the present moment. These techniques include:

  • Sitting down: Relaxing in a comfortable chair sounds simple, but it can be extremely effective. With the feet comfortably on the floor, a person should focus on breathing in and out slowly and how it feels sitting on the chair.
  • The 5-4-3-2-1 technique: Focusing on other things in the room and different senses can distract the person from the panic attack. They can focus on identifying five items to see, four objects to touch, three noises to hear, two different smells, and one taste.
  • Simple maths: Counting from one to 10 out of order or performing simple mathematical calculations, such as times tables, provides something else on which to concentrate.
  • Focus: Ask the person what day of the week it is, who they are with, and where they are.

Providing ongoing help

Some people may feel embarrassed about having a panic attack, as well as finding it stressful. Continuing support and engagement will help ease their anxiety. Reach out by checking in now and again. Finding out more about the condition may also help if the situation happens again.

How to help someone breathe during a panic attack

When a person is experiencing a panic attack, it is important that they get their breathing under control. Someone trying to help should not give them a paper bag to inhale and exhale from, as this could make them pass out.

Instead, it is better not to bring attention to their breathing and to keep calm and breath normally so that they can mirror this pattern. This method should hopefully get their breathing back under control.

What not to do when someone is having a panic attack

Helping someone who is having a panic attack can be very stressful, so it is important that a person is mindful of what actions could make a panic attack worse.

Actions that could make a panic attack worse include:

  • Saying “calm down”: While getting a person to talk is vital, phrases such as “calm down,” “don’t worry,” and “try to relax” could make the symptoms worse.
  • Becoming irritated: Remain patient to help a person deal with a panic attack and do not belittle their experience. The focus should be on them, for however long it takes the symptoms to pass.
  • Making assumptions: Always ask a person what help they need, rather than assuming or guessing the correct advice.

Warning signs and when to get help

While a panic attack can happen very suddenly, the person will often experience warning signs. These may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • feelings of terror or dread
  • shaking and dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • feeling as though they are dying

Someone having a panic attack may not feel comfortable asking for help. However, the symptoms could last for hours with one panic attack rolling into another, so a person should get medical assistance if they feel that it is necessary.

Pain in the arms or shoulders is also a concern, as the symptoms of a heart attack and panic attack can be similar. If a person has not had a panic attack before, has chest pain, and is vomiting, dial 911 immediately.

Learn more about the differences between a heart attack and a panic attack here.

People who frequently have panic attacks may wish to consider joining a support group or, if possible, relying more on family members and friends to help prevent panic attacks from reoccurring.

Panic attack symptoms

Panic attacks can start without warning, and they can be frightening. An attack can happen when a person is relaxed or even asleep. While the symptoms vary, common ones include:

  • rapid heart rate
  • sweating, trembling, or shaking
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling sick or nauseated
  • a loss of control
  • sense of impending danger
  • chest pain and stomach cramps
  • lightheadedness or faintness

People who have panic attacks may receive a diagnosis of panic disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, statistics show that panic disorder affects about 6 million adults in the United States, or 2.7% of the population.

Summary

Panic attacks are scary for everyone involved, especially when they happen suddenly.

As the person’s stress levels rise, it is essential for others to stay calm and empathetic. How they respond to the person experiencing the attack can influence its severity.

If a person is experiencing other symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, they may be having a heart attack. In this case, it is essential to dial 911 immediately.

There are concerns as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), last week, authorised the marketing of IQOS, Philip Morris International’s (PMI) electrically heated tobacco system, as a modified risk tobacco product (MRTP). In doing so, the agency found that an IQOS exposure modification order is appropriate to promote the public health.

The FDA authorised the marketing of IQOS with the following information: “The IQOS System heats tobacco but does not burn it. This significantly reduces the production of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals.”

Scientific studies have shown that switching completely from conventional cigarettes to the IQOS system reduces the body’s exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals.

The agency concluded that the available scientific evidence demonstrates that IQOS is expected to benefit the health of the population as a whole, taking into account both users of tobacco products and persons who do not currently use tobacco products

The FDA’s decision further builds on the emerging independent international scientific consensus that IQOS is a better choice than continuing to smoke, and follows the FDA’s April 2019 decision authorizing the commercialization of IQOS in the U.S.

The FDA’s decision provides an important example of how governments and public health organizations can regulate smoke-free alternatives to differentiate them from cigarettes in order to protect and promote the public health

This decision follows a review of the extensive scientific evidence package PMI submitted to the FDA in December 2016 to support its MRTP applications.

Commenting on the FDA’s announcement, PMI’s Chief Executive Officer, André Calantzopoulos, said: “The FDA’s decision is a historic public health milestone. Many of the tens of millions of American men and women who smoke today will quit—but many won’t. Today’s decision makes it possible to inform these adults that switching completely to IQOS is a better choice than continuing to smoke. FDA determined that scientific studies show that switching completely from conventional cigarettes to IQOS reduces exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals.

“IQOS is a fundamentally different product than combustible cigarettes and must be regulated differently, as the FDA has recognized. Now—more than ever—there is an urgent need for a fundamentally different conversation on a cooperative approach to achieve a smoke-free future. The FDA’s decision provides an important example of how governments and public health organizations can regulate smoke-free alternatives to differentiate them from cigarettes in order to promote the public health…”

Meanwhile, a new Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco aims to help the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users quit. Stopping smoking is more important than ever as evidence reveals that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have severe outcomes from COVID-19.

The project gives people free access to nicotine replacement therapy and to Florence, a digital health worker, based on artificial intelligence that dispels myths around COVID-19 and tobacco and helps people develop a personalized plan to quit tobacco.

It is being led by the World Health Organization (WHO), together with the UN Interagency Task Force on Non-communicable Diseases, PATH and the Coalition for Access to NCD Medicines and Products, with support from the private sector.

The Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, salutes this initiative. The Head of the Convention Secretariat commented, “This will contribute to Parties’ implementation of Article 14 of the Convention, regarding measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation. And, as previously said: there has never been a more appropriate time to support people in their efforts to quit tobacco use.”

Director of Health Promotion, Dr. Ruediger Krech, said that, “We welcome the support of pharmaceutical and tech companies to improve people’s health and save lives during COVID-19. The partnership highlights what we can achieve when we work together both to end the pandemic and, moving forward, to build back better.”

WHO received its first-ever donation of nicotine replacement therapies for the project from Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health. The manufacturer has donated 37,800 nicotine patches to help 5,400 people in Jordan quit smoking. These efforts will help WHO respond to the ongoing pandemic and improve health outcomes.

Florence was created with technology developed by San Francisco and New Zealand based Digital People Company, Soul Machines, with support from Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.

Jordan, which has some of the highest tobacco use rates in the world, will be the first pilot country with additional companies and countries to join in discussion. HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, President for the International Union of Cancer Control said, “I am pleased that Jordan is part of this initiative, which will help advocate for tobacco control and support civil society organizations in their continued efforts for a healthier smoke-free future for Jordan.”

Just last week the Government of Jordan adopted a ban on smoking and vaping indoors in public places. The link between smoking and COVID-19 make it essential for governments to pass comprehensive tobacco control laws that will protect the health of their people during this pandemic and beyond.

Although around 60 per cent of tobacco users worldwide say they want to quit, only 30 per cent of them have access to the tools that can help them do so The Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco is designed to deliver tobacco cessation services that will help people overcome both physical and mental addictions to tobacco.

Close up of woman hands using lancet on finger to check blood sugar level by Glucose meter. Use as Medicine, diabetes, glycemia, health care and people concept.

A study of more than 4,000 people shows that gut bacteria fluctuate throughout the day and that this occurs to a lesser extent in people with type 2 diabetes. Doctors could potentially use these patterns to predict and diagnose diabetes.

Circadian rhythms, which people sometimes refer to as the “body clock,” regulate patterns of sleep, alertness, temperature, and blood pressure, among other factors. These daily biological rhythms likely evolved to coordinate with light and food availability, but they also regulate internal metabolic processes.

Circadian rhythms are important to human health, and experts believe their long-term disruption to have various adverse consequences.

The possible health effects include obesity and type 2 diabetes. A growing body of evidence indicates a connection between circadian disruption and insulin resistance.

Building on this, a new study appearing in Cell Host & Microbe shows that diabetes is also associated with changes to the daily rhythms of the gut microbiome.

A team of researchers that the Technical University of Munich in Germany led showed that people with type 2 diabetes have fewer daily fluctuations in some of their gut bacteria and that these changes may serve to predict and diagnose the condition.

The rhythm of the microbiome

For many years, scientists have known that the circadian clock is crucial to human physiology. However, it is only recently that they have discovered its role in relation to the microbiome, which is the community of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in and on people — for instance, on the skin or in the gut.

Recent studies, for example, show that the community of gut bacteria fluctuates during the day, just like other circadian processes.

Some researchers believe that these regular changes to the microbiome are likely beneficial and that the loss of this daily rhythm could contribute to metabolic disorders, perhaps explaining the connection between circadian rhythms and diabetes.

To investigate this further, the team started by analyzing the microbiomes of almost 2,000 people over a period of 24 hours. Their results confirmed the regular oscillations of gut bacteria.

They then focused the study to include only the people with metabolic disorders, including obesity (defined as a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or above), prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes.

They found that people with obesity and type 2 diabetes lost the rhythmic patterns of their gut bacteria. They also noted specific changes to the gut bacteria in people with diabetes.

A new diagnostic tool?

Using a dataset of 2,039 people, the team started to detect particular changes to the microbiome that could serve as biomarkers to diagnose type 2 diabetes.

“When certain gut bacteria do not follow a day-night rhythm, so if their number and function does not change over the course of the day, this can be an indicator for [type 2 diabetes],” – Silke Kiessling, co-author of the study

The researchers found 13 types of bacteria that did not change during the day in people with diabetes. They used these bacteria to train a mathematical model to detect whether a person has diabetes.

“Mathematical models also show that this microbial risk signature consisting of arrhythmic bacteria helps diagnosing diabetes,” explains first author Sandra Reitmeier.

When they tested the model on a new group of 699 people, it was able to predict not only who received a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes but also who was at risk of developing the condition.

The model was most effective in combination with BMI, which confirms the importance of obesity in diabetes onset.

“Apart from bacteria and their variations over the course of the day, other parameters, such as [BMI], play a role in being able to better predict a person’s future medical conditions,” adds senior author Prof. Dirk Haller.

Cause or effect?

The findings so far show a clear association between daily variations in the microbiome and type 2 diabetes, but they do not say anything about why the two are connected.

In the final part of their study, the researchers tried to answer this question by looking at changes to metabolism. They found 26 metabolic pathways that were associated with the lack of a microbial rhythm.

The same association existed for 19 of these pathways (73%) in a separate group of people with type 2 diabetes. These pathways included several that are known to influence sensitivity to insulin.

These common metabolic pathways suggest that the two states are functionally connected, although it is too early to say whether a disrupted microbiome actually causes diabetes.

While scientists do not yet fully understand the link between the microbiome and diabetes, the findings from this study suggest that a microbial risk score could be a new way to diagnose and predict the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Close-up of scientist hands with microscope

A recent stem cell study has shown that SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, can infect heart cells via the same receptor present in the lungs. This may be responsible for the cardiac complications associated with COVID-19.

Experts initially thought that COVID-19 was a respiratory disease, with symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, and pneumonia. However, more recent evidence into COVID-19 shows that the disease can also cause neurological and cardiac symptoms.

Physicians have reported changes to the circulatory system in people with COVID-19, sometimes leading to blood clots, as well as cardiac complications, such as changes to the heart rhythm, damage to heart tissue, and heart attacks.

Although there is widespread agreement that COVID-19 is a risk to the heart, whether these symptoms are due to the virus directly or a consequence of other disease processes, such as inflammation, has been unclear.

In a new study appearing in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, scientists have helped resolve this mystery by showing that SARS-CoV-2 can infect heart cells and change their function.

Their findings, from experiments in human stem cells, suggest that the cardiac symptoms of COVID-19 may be the direct result of the infection of heart tissue.

SARS-CoV-2 behaviour in heart cells

The scientists used a type of stem cell called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to generate heart cells.

Scientists can create iPSCs from a person’s skin cells and then reprogram them to become any cell type in the body. They provide a useful tool for research into human disease and a way to test new treatments.

In this study, the team programmed the iPSCs to become heart cells and later incubated them with SARS-CoV-2. Using microscopes and genetic sequencing techniques, the researchers found that SARS-CoV-2 could directly infect the heart cells.

They also showed that the virus can rapidly divide inside heart cells, which caused changes to the heart’s ability to beat after a period of under 3 days.

“We not only uncovered that these stem cell-derived heart cells are susceptible to infection by [the] novel coronavirus, but that the virus can also quickly divide within the heart muscle cells,” explains first study author Dr. Arun Sharma, a research fellow at the Regenerative Medicine Institute of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA.

The role of the ACE2 receptor

Additional experiments focused on the different genes expressed by heart cells before and after the virus infected them. These studies showed activation of the innate immune response and antiviral clearance pathways to help fight the virus.

However, how does the virus get into the heart in the first place? The researchers suggest that one way in which it gains access may be by using angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). This is the same receptor the virus uses to infect cells in the lungs.

Importantly, studies have shown that treatment with an ACE2 antibody can help stop SARS-CoV-2 from replicating and save cells in the heart.

“By blocking the ACE2 protein with an antibody, the virus is not as easily able to bind to the ACE2 protein, and thus cannot easily enter the cell. This not only helps us understand the mechanisms of how this virus functions, but also suggests therapeutic approaches that could be used as a potential treatment for SARS-CoV-2 infection.” – Dr. Arun Sharma

The importance of these findings

The researchers suggest that scientists could use stem cell-derived heart cells to screen new drugs and find compounds able to stop the infection of heart cells.

“This key experimental system could be useful to understand the differences in disease processes of related coronaviral pathogens SARS and MERS,” adds study author Dr. Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

There are some limitations to this approach, however. These include the fact that stem cell-derived heart cells are not exactly the same as the real thing.

The researchers also studied the cells in a dish, an isolated system lacking the immune interactions that would occur in the human body.

Nevertheless, the experiments clearly showed that the cells became infected with SARS-CoV-2, which is in line with some clinical data showing the virus in the hearts of people who died from COVID-19.

A new research published last week in the Journal of Physiology showed that 12 weeks of easy-to-administer passive stretching helps improve blood flow by making it easier for your arteries to dilate and decreasing their stiffness.

Passive stretching differs from active stretching in that the former involves an external force (another person or gravity) stretching you, whereas active stretching is performed on your own. The changes they observed in blood vessels could have implications for diseases, including the number one global killer, heart disease.

Researchers at the University of Milan assigned 39 healthy participants of both sexes to two groups. The control group didn’t undergo any stretching. The experimental group performed leg stretches five times a week for 12 weeks. Researchers evaluated the effect of passive stretching on the blood flow locally and in the upper arm. They found that the arteries in both the lower leg and upper arm had increased blood flow and dilation when stimulated, along with decreased stiffness.

Both of these changes may have implications for diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes as they are characterized by changes in blood flow control, due to an impaired vascular system.

If this study is replicated in patients with vascular disease, it could indicate whether or not this training method could serve as a new drug-free treatment for improving vascular health and reducing disease risk, especially in people with lower mobility.

Moreover, stretching may also be used during hospitalisation or after surgical interventions, to preserve the vascular health when patients have low mobility. Carers or family members can also perform it at home.

An author on the paper, Emiliano Ce, said this new application of stretching is especially relevant in the current pandemic period of increased confinement to homes, where the possibility of performing beneficial training to improve and prevent heart disease, stroke and other conditions is limited.

Also, another research suggests that exercise can slow or prevent the development of macular degeneration and may benefit other common causes of vision loss, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The new study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that exercise reduced the harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes of lab mice by up to 45 per cent. This tangle of blood vessels is a key contributor to macular degeneration and several other eye diseases.

The study represents the first experimental evidence showing that exercise can reduce the severity of macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss, the scientists report. Ten million Americans are estimated to have the condition.

Researcher at the UVA’s Center for Advanced Vision Science, Dr. Bradley Gelfand, said: “There has long been a question about whether maintaining a healthy lifestyle can delay or prevent the development of macular degeneration. The way that question has historically been answered has been by taking surveys of people, asking them what they are eating and how much exercise they are performing.

“That is basically the most sophisticated study that has been done. The problem with that is that people are notoriously bad self-reporters … and that can lead to conclusions that may or not be true. This [study] offers hard evidence from the lab for very first time.”

Enticingly, the research found that the bar for receiving the benefits from exercise was relatively low — more exercise didn’t mean more benefit. “Mice are kind of like people in that they will do a spectrum of exercise. As long as they had a wheel and ran on it, there was a benefit,” Gelfand said. “The benefit that they obtained is saturated at low levels of exercise.”

An initial test comparing mice that voluntarily exercised versus those that did not found that exercise reduced the blood vessel overgrowth by 45 per cent. A second test, to confirm the findings, found a reduction of 32 per cent.

The scientists aren’t certain exactly how exercise is preventing the blood vessel overgrowth. There could be a variety of factors at play, they say, including increased blood flow to the eyes.

Gelfand, of UVA’s Department of Ophthalmology and Department of Biomedical Engineering, noted that the onset of vision loss is often associated with a decrease in exercise. “It is fairly well known that as people’s eyes and vision deteriorate, their tendency to engage in physical activity also goes down,” he said. “It can be a challenging thing to study in older people. … How much of that is one causing the other?”

The researchers already have submitted grant proposals in hopes of obtaining funding to pursue their findings further.

“The next step is to look at how and why this happens, and to see if we can develop a pill or method that will give you the benefits of exercise without having to exercise,” Gelfand said. “We’re talking about a fairly elderly population [of people with macular degeneration], many of whom may not be capable of conducting the type of exercise regimen that may be required to see some kind of benefit.” (He urged people to consult their doctors before beginning any aggressive exercise program.)

Gelfand, a self-described couch potato, disclosed a secret motivation for the research: “One reason I wanted to do this study was sort of selfish. I was hoping to find some reason not to exercise,” he joked. “It turned out exercise really is good for you.”

A new study has shown that three-Quarters of the 200 million Nigerians are at risk of Non-Communicable Diseases, NCDs, amidst coronavirus pandemic.

The study also found that men are more at risk than women.

The year-long study which commenced in 2019, by WellNewMe in collaboration with Novartis was aimed at determining Nigerians risks for developing chronic diseases as part of the disease activities for World Hypertension Day.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), people with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, or cancer are at higher risk of complications of COVID-19.

The result of the study released weekend revealed that a total of 1,900 people were enrolled for the pilot, and 1,269 of them completed the assessment as part of the pilot.

The participants were drawn from different parts of Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which majority of them coming from Lagos 30 percent, Oyo 8 percent, Abuja FCT 8 percent, Ogun 7 percent, and Rivers 5 percent.

Three-quarters of those who completed the assessment were found to have an increased risk of developing a chronic disease.

It was also found that risk increases as the age increases, while all of those aged 50 and above have an increased risk.

The results also showed that 43 percent of women seem more at risk than 36 percent of men for developing hypertension, while the risk increases as the age of the pilot enrolee increased.

With diabetes, it was found that almost three-quarters of those assessed had an increased risk of having diabetes with 10 percent having a high risk while men were more at risk than women. The diabetes risk also increases as the age of the pilot enrolee increases.

Some of the other interesting anecdotes from the pilot revealed that men were four times more likely to be at risk for developing the cardiac disease, and in Rivers, 85 percent of the adults assessed had an increased risk for developing chronic disease.

Commenting on the study, Co-founder of WellNewMe and author of the pilot report, Dr. Obi Igbokwe, said:” report of the pilot, while not extensive does lends importance to considerations by the Nigerian health authorities when designing the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that they need factor in NCDs as well.”

Igbokwe further explained that “As patients with chronic diseases are at greater risk of the coronavirus, that in itself presents an extra burden on our already struggling health services across the country. It is also of great importance, that even when the pandemic has passed, we will still have to deal with the burden of tackling these chronic diseases which by all accounts are here to stay.”

Meanwhile, WellNewMe has designed an algorithm-based health risk assessment platform that encompasses psychological, physical, and social domains that are known to influence NCD risk and prognosis in cases of established disease.

Being a global leader in the cardiovascular healthcare space, Novartis is mobilizing the setup of these cardiovascular risk assessment stations at various pharmacies across the country with the aim of reaching a thousand patients.

The platform incorporates the ability for healthcare providers (HCPs) to standardize their approach to cardiovascular disease management by using an algorithmic process and harnessing relevant data to ensure a set of potential outputs that result in better outcomes for the patient.

WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge had also said that the prevention and control of NCDs have a crucial role in the COVID-19 response and if not adapted to encompass prevention and management of NCD risks, countries will fail many people at a time when their vulnerability is heightened.

An estimated 1.7 billion people — more than 20 percent of the world’s population — risk becoming severely infected with COVID-19 due to underlying health problems such as obesity and heart disease, analysis showed Tuesday.

The novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 420,000 people globally during the first wave of the pandemic, adversely effects patients suffering from co-morbidities.

A team of experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed global data sets of illnesses including diabetes, lung disease and HIV used these to estimate how many people are at heightened risk of serious COVID-19 infection.

They found that one in five people have at least one underlying health problem putting them in greater danger.

While not all of those would go on to develop severe symptoms if infected, the researchers said around 4 percent of the global population — around 350 million) would likely get sick enough to require hospital treatment.

“As countries move out of lockdown, governments are looking for ways to protect the most vulnerable from a virus that is still circulating,” said Andrew Clark, who contributed to the study.

“This might involve advising people with underlying conditions to adopt social distancing measures appropriate to their level of risk.”

Clark said the findings could help governments make decisions on who receives a COVID-19 vaccine first when one becomes available.

Consistent with other studies about COVID risk, the authors found that older people are in greater danger of getting seriously unwell from the virus.

Less than 5 percent of people aged under 20 have an underlying risk factor, compared with two thirds of over 70s.

Countries with younger populations have fewer people with at least one underlying condition, but risks vary globally, according to the analysis.

Small island states such as Fiji and Mauritius have among the highest rates of diabetes — a known COVID-19 risk factor — on Earth, for example.

And countries with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS, such as eSwatini and Lesotho, also need to be vigilant, said authors of the research published in The Lancet.

In Europe, more than 30 percent of people have one or more health conditions, it showed.

Writing in a linked comment, Nina Schwalbe from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said the study showed “it is time to evolve from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that centres on those most at risk.”