Research Roundup: COVID-19 Pain Relief and More


Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Does the COVID-19 Virus Relieve Pain?

Research out of the University of Arizona Health Sciences suggests that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can relieve pain. The study indicates that the virus’s spike protein co-opts VEGF-A/Neuropilin-1 receptor signaling, resulting in an analgesic effect. Early research showed the spike protein used the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor to enter the body, but in June researchers pointed to a second receptor, neuropilin-1.

“That caught our eye because for the last 15 years my lab has been studying a complex of proteins and pathways that relate to pain processing that are downstream of neuropilin,” said Rajesh Khanna, a professor in the College of Medicine in Tucson’s Department of Pharmacology. Khanna is affiliated with the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center and is a member of the UArizona BIO5 Institute. “So we stepped back and realized this could mean that maybe the spike protein is involved in some sort of pain processing.”

Numerous pathways are associated with the body’s ability to feel pain. One is via a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A), which is important in blood vessel growth, but also associated with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and COVID-19. When VEGF-A binds to neuropilin, it launches a cascade of events that results in hyperexcitability of neurons, which leads to pain. The research was published in the journal Pain.

Khanna said, “It made a lot of sense to me that perhaps the reason for the unrelenting spread of COVID-19 is that in the early stages, you’re walking around all fine as if nothing is wrong because your pain has been suppressed. You have the virus, but you don’t feel bad because your pain is gone. If we can prove that this pain relief is what is causing COVID-19 to spread further, that’s of enormous value.”

Single-Use Treatment for Ear Infections

Outer ear infections, typically caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosaor Staphylococcus aureus, are typically treated with repeated doses of antibiotic drops. Researcher Monica Serban and her colleagues at the University of Montana and the University of Utah developed a delivery system of hydrogels that do not require refrigeration and could deliver single effective doses of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin to treat ear infections.

Preventing and Curing Rotavirus and Possibly Other Viral Infections

Investigators at Georgia State University identified a combination of two substances, which are secreted by the immune system, that can cure and prevent rotavirus infection. Rotavirus causes severe, life-threatening diarrhea in children and moderate GI distress in adults. Rotavirus is an RNA virus that mostly infects intestinal epithelial cells. The researchers identified the cytokines as interleukin 18 (IL-18) and interleukin 22 (IL-22). Both are produced when the immune system detects a protein in the whip-like appendage of certain types of bacteria. In animal studies, they found the cytokines impeded rotavirus, resulting in rapid and complete expulsion of the virus, even in animals with compromised immune systems.

New Technique Improves Prognostic Testing for Colorectal Cancer

Scientists with the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO), the Bellvitge Institute for Biomedical Research (IDIBELL), CIBERESP, the University of Barcelona, and City of Hope National Medical Center in Los Angeles, developed a technique called “TCR immuno-sequencing,” that shows promise as a new biomarker for colorectal cancer (CRC). The technique measures both the amount of infiltrated T lymphocytes and their clonality, meaning the diversity of lymphocytes that recognize different targets. The data found that the highest levels of TCR and diversity of clones are related to a better prognosis.

Less Aerosol Risk from COVID-19 Than Previously Thought

Although research is suggesting that in some cases COVID-19 can be spread via aerosols—as opposed to the more common “droplet” transmission—a new study found that hospital-based anesthetic procedures aerosolize much less than previously thought. So-called “aerosol generating procedures” (AGPs) such as intubation and extubation were believed to have a high level of aerosolization, with the result that numerous surgical procedures have been delayed. The new research, out of North Bristol NHS Trust, Bristol UK and Bristol Aerosol Research Centre, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol found that these procedures probably produce only a small percentage of the aerosols previously thought and much less than would be produced during a single regular cough.

Previous Coronavirus Infections Might Lessen Severity of COVID-19

Researchers at Boston Medical Center published research suggesting that previous infections by coronaviruses, such as the common cold, may decrease the severity of COVID-19 infections. Their research also suggested that the immunity from these previous infections, however, do not prevent people from being infected with SARS-CoV-2 and getting COVID-19. The team evaluated electronic medical records from people who had a respiratory panel test (CRP-PCR) between May 18, 2015 and March 11, 2020. They also assessed data from people who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 12, 2020, and June 12, 2020. After adjusting for various factors, such as diabetes, age, gender, and BMI, they found that COVID-19 hospitalized patients with previous positive CRP-PCR tests for a coronavirus had significantly lower odds of being admitted to an ICU and lower trending likelihood of requiring mechanical ventilation for COVID-19.

“People are routinely infected with coronaviruses that are different from SARS-CoV-2, and these study results could help identify patients at lower and greater risk of developing complications after being infected with SARS-CoV-2,” said Joseph Mizgerd, professor of medicine, microbiology, and biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine who is co-corresponding author of the study. “We hope that this study can be the springboard for identifying the types of immune responses for not necessarily preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection but rather limiting the damage from COVID-19.”


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