Home Science : Trump Authorizes Controversial Plasma Treatment; X-Ray Crystallography to Push Research

[COVID-19 Update]: Trump Authorizes Controversial Plasma Treatment; X-Ray Crystallography to Push Research

Trump has officially authorised convalescent plasma treatment for Americans ahead of the Presidential elections to be held in November 2020. Is the motive a political propaganda or simply the citizens' welfare?

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 812k people from around the world while causing long-lasting repercussions on the economy. Amid this, drug regulators are accelerating regulatory approvals while scientists are trying to accelerate COVID-19 research to break-free from the pandemic as soon as possible. We bring you the latest updates in this regard.

Donald Trump Authorizes Plasma Treatment For COVID-19

On 24th August 2020, in a press conference, Donald Trump announced the authorization of convalescent plasma treatment for the novel coronavirus, which is made using the blood of recovered patients. 

It is proven to reduce mortality by 35 percent. It’s a tremendous number. Based on this data, the FDA has made the determination the treatment is safe and very effective.

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The FDA has issued an emergency use authorization (EUA), which allows physicians to use the convalescent plasma treatment. Earlier, a countrywide program led by the Mayo Clinic researchers was held to give people wider access to convalescent plasma. However, the program was not a randomized controlled trial, and hence it did not meet the criteria that determine if a treatment is safe and effective.

Speaking about the randomized trials, John Beigel, associate director for clinical research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated that treating 98,000 people with convalescent plasma and not having a conclusion pertaining to the effectivity is rather problematic. 

In addition, there is also a perception that the timing of the announcement was in line with this week’s Republican National Convention in which the President will most likely accept the nomination to run for a second term, the announcement thus bolstering his chances. 

It seems that the circumstances around the issuing of the convalescent plasma remain significantly political. A lot of people are associating the announcement in favor of the Trump administration ahead of the elections in November 2020. 

This is not the first time that a EUA has been deployed by the administration. Previously, a EUA was issued for anti-inflammatory drug hydroxychloroquine. Many scientists remained doubtful of its utility. The FDA revoked the Hydroxychloroquine EUA soon after. More recently, scientists also denied the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in many moderate-to-severe cases. 

Peter Chin-Hong, MD, medical educator and an infectious disease physician at UC San Francisco, said:

It’s not like people aren’t excited about it. I love the idea of plasma. But now that it’s easy to give, and you can just write a prescription for it and you give it like a blood transfusion, with possibly no data or minimal data collected, it cuts the opportunity for doing great science.

X-Ray Crystallography to Push COVID-19 Research

An experimental station, Beam Line 12-1, is being used by researchers extensively to study SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The Beam Line at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, CA, USA, integrates extra bright, closely oriented X-ray beam with robotic technology, automation, data processing systems, among others, to examine macromolecules and to allow scientists to perform studies more rapidly than ever.

Researchers from various institutions such as Stanford University, The Scripps Research Institute, the University of California, and the California Institute of Technology have been actively using the beamline. They have studied the proteins which play a key role in the COVID-19 infection. 

Some of the findings provided essential hints on how antibodies can block the infection and how other drug treatments can respond against the virus – to do more good than harm. 

The advanced microfocus X-ray beamlines will allow scientists to collect high-quality data and use smaller crystals. This is particularly helpful in studying molecules in which large crystals do not grow easily. 

A lead researcher, Christopher Barnes, stated that the microfocus beam size has already proven to be very effective in studying the SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. 

For experimentation, UCSF Professor James Fraser used the beamline to research on enzymes that are involved in the viral replication at body temperatures. Wilson and the team conducted another research wherein they studied the molecular structure of the antibodies that prevent the virus from attacking the host cells. Wilson stated:

It’s fantastic that we’ve been able to use this beamline while it’s being commissioned and actually accelerate our progress on COVID-19 work.

As of now, scientists are searching for antiviral drugs that can modulate the immune system response according to the situation. Wilson’s group is expanding research to study other pairs of antibodies and proteins. Wilson stated that the “good capacity, fast response, and flexibility” of the Beam Line is really helping them push the research. 

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Muskan Bagrecha
Muskan is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor's in Technology. With a zealous spirit for writing, she finds herself open to the vast realm of learning. She is an avid programmer with a keen interest in technology and science.


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