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Cryo-EM disclosed how the D614G mutation changes SARS-CoV-2 spike protein structure.

Reporter: Dr. Premalata Pati, Ph.D., Postdoc

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has had a major impact on human health globally; infecting a massive quantity of people; causing severe disease and associated long-term health sequelae; resulting in death and excess mortality, especially among older and prone populations; interrupting routine healthcare services; disruptions to travel, trade, education, and many other societal functions; and more broadly having a negative impact on peoples physical and mental health.

It’s need of the hour to answer the questions like what allows the variants of SARS-CoV-2 first detected in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil to spread so quickly? How can current COVID-19 vaccines better protect against them?

Scientists from the Harvard Medical School and the Boston Children’s Hospital help answer these urgent questions. The team reports its findings in the journal “Science a paper entitled “Structural impact on SARS-CoV-2 spike protein by D614G substitution”. The mutation rate of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has rapidly evolved over the past few months, especially at the Spike (S) protein region of the virus, where the maximum number of mutations have been observed by the virologists.

Bing Chen, HMS professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s, and colleagues analyzed the changes in the structure of the spike proteins with the genetic change by D614G mutation by all three variants. Hence they assessed the structure of the coronavirus spike protein down to the atomic level and revealed the reason for the quick spreading of these variants.


This model shows the structure of the spike protein in its closed configuration, in its original D614 form (left) and its mutant form (G614). In the mutant spike protein, the 630 loop (in red) stabilizes the spike, preventing it from flipping open prematurely and rendering SARS-CoV-2 more infectious.

IMAGE SOURCE: Bing Chen, Ph.D., Boston Children’s Hospital

The work

The mutant spikes were imaged by Cryo-Electron microscopy (cryo-EM), which has resolution down to the atomic level. They found that the D614G mutation (substitution of in a single amino acid “letter” in the genetic code for the spike protein) makes the spike more stable as compared with the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. As a result, more functional spikes are available to bind to our cells’ ACE2 receptors, making the virus more contagious.


Cryo-EM revealed how the D614G mutation changes SARS-CoV-2 spike protein structure.

IMAGE SOURCE:  Zhang J, et al., Science

Say the original virus has 100 spikes,” Chen explained. “Because of the shape instability, you may have just 50 percent of them functional. In the G614 variants, you may have 90 percent that is functional. So even though they don’t bind as well, the chances are greater and you will have an infection

Forthcoming directions by Bing Chen and Team

The findings suggest the current approved COVID-19 vaccines and any vaccines in the works should include the genetic code for this mutation. Chen has quoted:

Since most of the vaccines so far—including the Moderna, Pfizer–BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca vaccines are based on the original spike protein, adding the D614G mutation could make the vaccines better able to elicit protective neutralizing antibodies against the viral variants

Chen proposes that redesigned vaccines incorporate the code for this mutant spike protein. He believes the more stable spike shape should make any vaccine based on the spike more likely to elicit protective antibodies. Chen also has his sights set on therapeutics. He and his colleagues are further applying structural biology to better understand how SARS-CoV-2 binds to the ACE2 receptor. That could point the way to drugs that would block the virus from gaining entry to our cells.

In January, the team showed that a structurally engineered “decoy” ACE2 protein binds to SARS-CoV-2 200 times more strongly than the body’s own ACE2. The decoy potently inhibited the virus in cell culture, suggesting it could be an anti-COVID-19 treatment. Chen is now working to advance this research into animal models.

Main Source:

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2021/03/16/science.abf2303?rss=1

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COVID-19 Sequel: Neurological Impact of Social isolation been linked to poorer physical and mental health

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Tiny biologic drug to fight COVID-19 show promise in animal models

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Miniproteins against the COVID-19 Spike protein may be therapeutic

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

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Embryogenesis in Mechanical Womb

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

A highly effective platforms for the ex utero culture of post-implantation mouse embryos have been developed in the present study by scientists of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. The study was published in the journal Nature. They have grown more than 1,000 embryos in this way. This study enables the appropriate development of embryos from before gastrulation (embryonic day (E) 5.5) until the hindlimb formation stage (E11). Late gastrulating embryos (E7.5) are grown in three-dimensional rotating bottles, whereas extended culture from pre-gastrulation stages (E5.5 or E6.5) requires a combination of static and rotating bottle culture platforms.

At Day 11 of development more than halfway through a mouse pregnancy the researchers compared them to those developing in the uteruses of living mice and were found to be identical. Histological, molecular and single-cell RNA sequencing analyses confirm that the ex utero cultured embryos recapitulate in utero development precisely. The mouse embryos looked perfectly normal. All their organs developed as expected, along with their limbs and circulatory and nervous systems. Their tiny hearts were beating at a normal 170 beats per minute. But, the lab-grown embryos becomes too large to survive without a blood supply. They had a placenta and a yolk sack, but the nutrient solution that fed them through diffusion was no longer sufficient. So, a suitable mechanism for blood supply is required to be developed.

Till date the only way to study the development of tissues and organs is to turn to species like worms, frogs and flies that do not need a uterus, or to remove embryos from the uteruses of experimental animals at varying times, providing glimpses of development more like in snapshots than in live videos. This research will help scientists understand how mammals develop and how gene mutations, nutrients and environmental conditions may affect the fetus. This will allow researchers to mechanistically interrogate post-implantation morphogenesis and artificial embryogenesis in mammals. In the future it may be possible to develop a human embryo from fertilization to birth entirely outside the uterus. But the work may one day raise profound questions about whether other animals, even humans, should or could be cultured outside a living womb.

References:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03416-3

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867414000750?via%3Dihub

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1469-185X.1978.tb00993.x

https://www.nature.com/articles/199297a0

https://rep.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/rep/35/1/jrf_35_1_018.xml


COVID-19 Sequel: Neurological Impact of Social isolation been linked to poorer physical and mental health

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

UPDATED on 4/7/2021

‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’: COVID-19 Brain Health Fallout Is Real, Severe

Sarah Edmonds

April 07, 2021

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

START QUOTE

COVID-19 survivors face a sharply elevated risk of developing psychiatric or neurologic disorders in the six months after they contract the virus — a danger that mounts with symptom severity, new research shows.

In what is purported to be the largest study of its kind to-date, results showed that among 236,379 COVID-19 patients, one third were diagnosed with at least one of 14 psychiatric or neurologic disorders within a 6-month span.

The rate of illnesses, which ranged from depression to stroke, rose sharply among those with COVID-19 symptoms acute enough to require hospitalization.  

“If we look at patients who were hospitalized, that rate increased to 39%, and then increased to about just under 1 in 2 patients who needed ICU admission at the time of the COVID-19 diagnosis,” Maxime Taquet, PhD, University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry, Oxford, United Kingdom, told a media briefing.

Incidence jumps to almost two thirds in patients with encephalopathy at the time of COVID-19 diagnosis, he added.

The study, which examined the brain health of 236,379 survivors of COVID-19 via a US database of 81 million electronic health records, was published online April 6 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

High Rate of Neurologic, Psychiatric Disorders

The research team looked at the first-time diagnosis or recurrence of 14 neurologic and psychiatric outcomes in patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections. They also compared the brain health of this cohort with a control group of those with influenza or with non-COVID respiratory infections over the same period. 

SOURCE

The Effects of Loneliness and Our Brain function: poorer physical and mental health

One review of the science of loneliness found that people with stronger social relationships have a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival over a set period of time compared with those with weaker social connections. Other studies have linked loneliness to cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and depression.

For loneliness researchers the pandemic has provided an unprecedented natural experiment in the impact that social isolation might have on our brains. As millions of people across the world emerge from months of reduced social contact, a new neuroscience of loneliness is starting to figure out why social relationships are so crucial to our health.

Neural basis of Emotion

Desire for Social Interaction

Are there neurological differences between people who experience short-term isolation and those who have been isolated for long stretches of time? What kinds of social interactions satisfy our social cravings? Is a video call enough to quell our need for social contact, or do some people require an in-person connection to really feel satiated?

START QUOTE

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in the US and the author of two major studies on social isolation and health. “We have a lot of data that very robustly shows that both isolation and loneliness put us at increased risk for premature mortality—and conversely, that being socially connected is protective and reduces our risk,” she says.

START QUOTE

“Trying to investigate isolation or loneliness is not as straightforward in humans. In humans, being lonely is not necessarily correlated with how many people are around you,” says Tomova. She is particularly interested in the impact that the pandemic might have had on young people whose cognitive and social skills are still developing. “I think we will see potentially some differences in how their social behavior developed or things like that,” she says. But as is always the case in the uncertain world of loneliness research, the opposite could be true. “It could also be that most people are fine, because maybe social media does fulfill our social needs really well.”

SOURCE

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/lockdown-loneliness-neuroscience

The Weird Science of Loneliness and Our Brains – Social isolation as been linked to poorer physical and mental health, but scientists are finally starting to understand its neurological impact


T cells recognize recent SARS-CoV-2 variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

CD8+ T cell responses in COVID-19 convalescent individuals target conserved epitopes from multiple prominent SARS-CoV-2 circulating variants 

Andrew D ReddAlessandra NardinHassen KaredEvan M BlochAndrew PekoszOliver LaeyendeckerBrian AbelMichael FehlingsThomas C QuinnAaron A R TobianOpen Forum Infectious Diseases, ofab143, https://doi.org/10.1093/ofid/ofab143Published: 30 March 2021 Article history

Abstract

This study examined whether CD8+ T-cell responses from COVID-19 convalescent individuals (n=30) potentially maintain recognition of the major SARS-CoV-2 variants (n=45 mutations assessed). Only one mutation found in B.1.351-Spike overlapped with a previously identified epitope (1/52), suggesting that virtually all anti-SARS-CoV-2 CD8+ T-cell responses should recognize these newly described variants.

Key words:

CD8+ T cellSARS-CoV-2COVID-19Convalescent patients

Topic: 

SOURCE

https://academic.oup.com/ofid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ofid/ofab143/6189113

Original paper:

Andrew D Redd, Alessandra Nardin, Hassen Kared, Evan M Bloch, Andrew Pekosz, Oliver Laeyendecker, Brian Abel, Michael Fehlings, Thomas C Quinn, Aaron A R Tobian, CD8+ T cell responses in COVID-19 convalescent individuals target conserved epitopes from multiple prominent SARS-CoV-2 circulating variants, Open Forum Infectious Diseases, 2021;, ofab143, https://doi.org/10.1093/ofid/ofab143

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

T cells recognize recent SARS-CoV-2 variants

Healthy Human T CellScanning electron micrograph of a human T lymphocyte (also called a T cell) from the immune system of a healthy donor. NIAID

What

When variants of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) emerged in late 2020, concern arose that they might elude protective immune responses generated by prior infection or vaccination, potentially making re-infection more likely or vaccination less effective. To investigate this possibility, researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues analyzed blood cell samples from 30 people who had contracted and recovered from COVID-19 prior to the emergence of virus variants. They found that one key player in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2—the CD8+ T cell—remained active against the virus.

The research team was led by NIAID’s Andrew Redd, Ph.D., and included scientists from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Immunomics-focused company, ImmunoScape.

The investigators asked whether CD8+ T cells in the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients, infected with the initial virus, could still recognize three SARS-CoV-2 variants: B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the United Kingdom; B.1.351, originally found in the Republic of South Africa; and B.1.1.248, first seen in Brazil. Each variant has mutations throughout the virus, and, in particular, in the region of the virus’ spike protein that it uses to attach to and enter cells. Mutations in this spike protein region could make it less recognizable to T cells and neutralizing antibodies, which are made by the immune system’s B cells following infection or vaccination.

Although details about the exact levels and composition of antibody and T-cell responses needed to achieve immunity to SARS-CoV-2 are still unknown, scientists assume that strong and broad responses from both antibodies and T cells are required to mount an effective immune response.  CD8+ T cells limit infection by recognizing parts of the virus protein presented on the surface of infected cells and killing those cells.

In their study of recovered COVID-19 patients, the researchers determined that SARS-CoV-2-specific CD8+ T-cell responses remained largely intact and could recognize virtually all mutations in the variants studied. While larger studies are needed, the researchers note that their findings suggest that the T cell response in convalescent individuals, and most likely in vaccinees, are largely not affected by the mutations found in these three variants, and should offer protection against emerging variants.   

Optimal immunity to SARS-Cov-2 likely requires strong multivalent T-cell responses in addition to neutralizing antibodies and other responses to protect against current SARS-CoV-2 strains and emerging variants, the authors indicate. They stress the importance of monitoring the breadth, magnitude and durability of the anti-SARS-CoV-2 T-cell responses in recovered and vaccinated individuals as part of any assessment to determine if booster vaccinations are needed. 

SOURCE

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/t-cells-recognize-recent-sars-cov-2-variants


Top Industrialization Challenges of Gene Therapy Manufacturing

Guest Authors:

Dr. Mark Szczypka

Global Director, Process Development Services

Pall Corporation

https://www.pall.com/

and

Clive Glover

Director, Cell & Gene Therapy

Pall Corporation

https://www.pall.com/

What Is Gene Therapy? How Does It Save and Improve the Quality of Life?

What Is Gene Therapy?

Gene therapy is a new and exciting technique, defined as the use of genetic material to cure or alleviate disease. It is considered revolutionary, yet still in its infancy, with many new therapies currently undergoing clinical trials. 

Gene therapy has the potential to transform the treatment for diseases, significantly changing how doctors manage and treat patients. 

Two Types of Gene Therapy

There are two main types of gene therapy. 

The first corrects a specific disease causing genetic mutation. These are targeted towards inherited genetic disorders such as hemophilia or Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The second gives new functions to cells allowing them to fight disease.

A good example of these therapies are chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapies. Both Novartis’ Kymriah and Gilead’s Yescarta are examples of CAR-T therapies, that have demonstrated exceptional cancer remission rates where other forms of treatment have failed.

Cancer is the by far the largest category of disease with 65% of gene therapy clinical trials being investigated, followed by 11.1% for inherited monogenetic disease, 7% for infectious disease, and 6.9% for cardiovascular disease1.

How Does Genetic Material Get Delivered to Host Cell(s)?

Genetic material gets delivered to a host cell via a delivery system known as a vector. Vectors deliver genetic material via one of the two methods. By directly injecting genetic material into the patient (in vivo), and where selected cells collected from the patient, undergo modification outside (ex vivo) before introducing them back into the patient.

The most commonly used type of vector is a virus. While there are other methods of delivering genetic material into a cell, viruses have now been developed that demonstrate a good balance between efficacy and safety. 

 

Commercially Successful Gene Therapies

Developing a commercially successful gene therapy is challenging. It requires balancing several different considerations. Having a clinical effective therapy is essential, but this alone is not sufficient to ensure product success. In addition to this, reimbursement, quality and regulatory considerations, and manufacturing also must be considered. 

To date, a total 11 gene therapies have received marketing approval. However, behind this there is a strong clinical pipeline with >1000 clinical trials underway, and 92 drugs in Phase 32.

Furthermore, there has been significant investment with >$50B being invested in the area in the past 3 years3.

This investment, coupled with the accelerating understanding of disease at the genetic level, holds immense potential. Academic, commercial manufacturers, and industry suppliers are actively seeking new approaches that deliver these therapies as quick as possible to a waiting population.

Author Details:

Clive Glover

Director, Cell & Gene Therapy

Pall Corporation

https://www.pall.com/

Top Industrialization Challenges of Gene Therapy Manufacturing

Manufacturing and scale-up of industrialized processes to manufacture gene therapy products are accompanied by many challenges that must be overcome to succeed in the marketplace. Commercialization of gene therapies for patient use is time consuming and requires substantial financial investment and dedicated resources.

Despite the unique range of challenges associated with gene therapy development, the quest to bring these therapies to market is worthwhile because the therapeutic potential of the treatments is revolutionary and the commercial opportunity is considerable. The process to industrialization is complex, but the benefits of successful development of robust processes are huge. The industry is rapidly expanding and is implementing novel approaches to overcome existing challenges, using innovative methods for medicinal application and developing new drugs to treat rare diseases.

Manufacturing sufficient quantities of high quality product, is an area that requires substantial developmental effort. Challenges surrounding reimbursement for treatment, and the pressures associated with shorter time to approval, both increase burden placed on manufactures to rapidly develop suitable processes that are cost-effective. Cost of goods (COGs) need to be kept below critical threshold levels to drive sufficient profit margins, even though process development timelines are aggressive and short. There are a multitude of critical decisions and considerations to overcome. 

This blog explores some of these fundamental manufacturing challenges in more detail.

Scalable Manufacturing Platform

Technologies used to manufacture gene therapy biologics are advancing at very rapid pace. Not having a platform that is suitable nor scalable is a significant challenge many manufacturers face. It is a necessity throughout clinical development stages to be able to optimize the manufacturing process. However, any change in the manufacturing process that increases product yield or enhances quality is accompanied by the risk of changing the product. It is therefore essential that close attention is paid to tracking variation throughout the development process at every stage.

A substantial amount of early stage development is still being performed using outdated, non-commercially viable platforms and transferring processes to new platforms is required. To achieve manufacturing platform advancement, the product needs to be very well characterized during development so that investigators can generate data sets which demonstrate comparability between products used in clinical studies and those generated with the final manufacturing process.

Cost of Goods

COGs associated with manufacturing any drug product impacts the overall price of the therapy and heavily influences the profit margin realized by gene therapy manufactures. High production cost is a challenge that affects profitability. This is reflected in the high costs associated with newly approved gene therapy drugs such as Yescarta♦, Kymriah♦ and Luxturna♦ which are currently priced in the 100 thousands dollar range per dose. The challenge becomes a critical concern when the product in development cannot be sold at a price high enough to achieve a commercially-viable profit margin.  If acceptable margins cannot be reached, developers may choose to terminate production making the drug unavailable to patients. However, due to the remarkable value and life changing nature of the treatments the entire industry is committed to the pursuit of cost effective methods for manufacturing. There is a significant effort that has been mounted by all players to reach this end.

Currently, the main cost contributor to the overall COGs for gene therapy products is high quality clinical grade plasmid DNA containing the therapeutic gene of interest. This reagent is required for transient transfection of cells and it is imperative that the reagent is of high quality. It is an essential component of the process to assure an acceptable safety profile. Another example of an expensive gene therapy product is Zolgensma♦. This new drug was recently approved for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which is a rare disease that causes severe muscle weakness for suffers. It affects their ability to breath, speak and move. Most babies born with a common form of SMA die by the time they reach two years of age. Currently there is no cure. Zolgensma represents the only treatment option now available to cure the 10,000 – 25,000 affected individuals in the US. However, the current challenge with this therapy is that it could costs $2.1 million per patient1.

Reimbursement

Market size is an important factor that can limit effective commercial return. If the market size is too small, profitability is limited due to the small number of doses required to treat the patient population. This decreases the profit margin realized by the drug developer and can lower motivation to commercialize the therapy. The most encouraging aspect of the gene therapy revolution is that the first round of gene therapy products has been developed for extremely rare diseases, with small patient populations indicating the commitment to treat previously untreatable diseases. Amazingly, these patients can be cured by a single drug application, however, this inherent property of the therapy can further limit commercial profitability. Patients are often not required to pay for these high-cost medicines themselves, and look to government programs and health care insurance providers to reimburse the manufacturer for treatments. Health insurance reimbursement plans for new products is challenging, particularly so for new category products like gene therapy. It is expected that the process of reimbursement will differ from country to country and it will also be guided by factors like economics, demographic data and politics. If the current cost of manufacturing stands then drugs such as Zolgensma could place a huge financial strain on health systems. In the US for example, it is surmised that treating common diseases such as hemophilia, which affects around 20,000 people in the US alone, could cause a financial crisis1. If we look to the future of modern medicine, commercialization of gene therapies will require not only significant advancement in manufacturing processes to reduce costs but also a practical reimbursement strategy that will allow for drug developers to continue to forge into the new frontiers of medicine.

References:

1. Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/gene-therapy-treats-disease-but-prices-could-strain-us-health-system-2019-2 

♦Kymriah is a trademark of Novartis AG., Luxturna is a trademark of Spark Therapeutics, Inc., Yescarta is a trademark of Kite Pharma, Inc., Zolgensma is a trademark of AveXis Inc.

Author Details:

Dr. Mark Szczypka

Global Director, Process Development Services

Pall Corporation

https://www.pall.com/


COVID-related financial losses at Mass General Brigham

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Based on

Mass General Brigham reports COVID-related financial losses not as bad as expected

By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey Globe Staff,Updated December 11, 2020, 3:02 p.m.

START QUOTE

The state’s largest hospital system on Friday reported the worst financial loss in its history while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic — but still ended the fiscal year in better shape than expected.

Mass General Brigham, formerly known as Partners HealthCare, lost $351 million on operations in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. In 2019, the system recorded a gain of $382 million.

The loss, however, is not as great as projected, thanks in part to an infusion of federal aid and patients returning to hospitals in large numbers after the first COVID surge receded.

“2020 is like no other year,” said Peter Markell, chief financial officer at Mass General Brigham, which includes Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and several community hospitals. “At the end of the day, we came out of this better than we thought we might.”

Total revenue for the year remained relatively stable at about $14 billion.

When the pandemic first hit Massachusetts in March, hospitals across the state suddenly experienced sharp drops in revenue because they canceled so much non-COVID care to respond to the crisis at hand. They also faced new costs related to COVID, including the personal protective equipment needed to keep health care workers safe from infection.

Federal aid helped to make up much of the losses, including $546 million in grant money that went to Mass General Brigham. The nonprofit health system also slashed capital expenses in half, by about $550 million, and temporarily froze employee wages and cut their retirement benefits.

Among the unusual new costs for Mass General Brigham this year was the expense of building a field hospital, Boston Hope, at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The project cost $15 million to $20 million, Markell said, and Mass General Brigham is working to recoup those costs from government agencies.

The second surge of COVID, now underway, could hit hospitals’ bottom lines again, though Markell expects a smaller impact this time. One reason is because hospitals are trying to treat most of the patients who need care for conditions other than COVID even while treating growing numbers of COVID patients. In the spring, hospitals canceled vastly more appointments and procedures in anticipation of the first wave of COVID.

Mass General Brigham hospitals were treating more than 300 COVID patients on Friday, among the more than 1,600 hospitalized across the state.

Steve Walsh, president of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, said hospitals across the state will need more federal aid as they continue battling COVID into the new year.

“The financial toll of COVID-19 has been felt by every hospital and health care organization in the Commonwealth,” he said. “Those challenges will continue during 2021.”


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.

END QUOTE

SOURCE

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/12/11/business/mass-general-brigham-reports-covid-related-financial-losses-better-than-expected/?p1=Article_Inline_Related_Box

Integration of Mass General Hospital and Brigham Women’s Hospital was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

BASED on

At Mass General Brigham, a sweeping effort to unify hospitals and shed old rivalries

Executives say greater cooperation is necessary to stay relevant in a dynamic and competitive health care industry. But the aggressive push to integrate is stirring tensions and sowing discontent among doctors and hospital leaders.

By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey and Larry Edelman Globe Staff and Globe Columnist,Updated March 27, 2021, 6:15 p.m.125

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/03/27/business/mass-general-brigham-sweeping-effort-unify-hospitals-shed-old-rivalries/?s_campaign=breakingnews:newsletter

START QUOTE

The work of integration was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As patients flooded hospitals last spring, Mass General Brigham — not each of its individual hospitals — set pandemic policies, from what kind of personal protective equipment health care providers should wear, to which visitors were allowed inside hospitals, to how employees would be paid if they were out sick with the virus.

During the winter surge of COVID, Mass General Brigham officials closely tracked beds across their system and transferred patients daily from one hospital to another to ensure that no one facility became overwhelmed.

And, in the early months of the pandemic, the company dropped the name Partners, which meant little to patients, and unveiled a new brand to reflect the strength of its greatest assets, MGH and the Brigham.

Officials at the nonprofit health system have instructeddepartment heads across their hospitals to coordinate better, so, for example, if a patient needs surgery at the Brigham but is facing a long wait, they can refer that patient to another site within Mass General Brigham.

Some executives want patients, eventually, to be able to go online and book appointments at any Mass General Brigham facility, as easily as they make reservations for dinner or a hotel.

Walls described it like this: “How do we put things together that make things better and easier for patients, and leave alone things that are better where they are?

“We’re not going to push things together that don’t fit together,” he said.

And yet the aggressive pursuit of “systemness,” as executives call it, is taking a toll. Physicians and hospital leaders are struggling with the loss of control over their institutions and worried that the new era of top-down management threatens to homogenize a group of hospitals with different cultures and identities.

Veteran physicians and leaders have been surprised and upset by the power shift that is stripping them of the ability to make key decisions and unhappy with abrupt changes they feel are occurring with little discussion. Most are uncomfortable sharing their concerns publicly.

“If you’re not on the train, you’re getting run over by the train,” said one former Mass General Brigham executive who requested anonymity in orderto speak openly. “It’s not an environment to invite debate.”

Amid the restructuring, senior executives are departing in droves. They include the CEO of the MGH physicians group, Dr. Timothy Ferris; Brigham and Women’s president Dr. Elizabeth Nabel; chief financial officer of the system, Peter Markell; Cooley Dickinson Hospital president Joanne Marqusee; and president of Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, David Storto.

Some also fear the internal discord could hinder Mass General Brigham’s ability to attract talented leaders.

Top executives acknowledge there is angst — “Change is hard,” Klibanski said — but are pushing ahead.

MORE

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/03/27/business/mass-general-brigham-sweeping-effort-unify-hospitals-shed-old-rivalries/?s_campaign=breakingnews:newsletter


Consuming a higher amount of unprocessed red meat or poultry is associated with a lower risk of iron deficiency anemia: Outcome-wide analyses in 475,000 men and women in the UK Biobank study

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Meat consumption and risk of 25 common conditions: outcome-wide analyses in 475,000 men and women in the UK Biobank study

BMC Medicine volume 19, Article number: 53 (2021) Cite this article

Abstract

Background

There is limited prospective evidence on the association between meat consumption and many common, non-cancerous health outcomes. We examined associations of meat intake with risk of 25 common conditions (other than cancer).

Methods

We used data from 474,985 middle-aged adults recruited into the UK Biobank study between 2006 and 2010 and followed up until 2017 (mean follow-up 8.0 years) with available information on meat intake at baseline (collected via touchscreen questionnaire), and linked hospital admissions and mortality data. For a large sub-sample (~ 69,000), dietary intakes were re-measured three or more times using an online, 24-h recall questionnaire.

Results

On average, participants who reported consuming meat regularly (three or more times per week) had more adverse health behaviours and characteristics than participants who consumed meat less regularly, and most of the positive associations observed for meat consumption and health risks were substantially attenuated after adjustment for body mass index (BMI). In multi-variable adjusted (including BMI) Cox regression models corrected for multiple testing, higher consumption of unprocessed red and processed meat combined was associated with higher risks of ischaemic heart disease (hazard ratio (HRs) per 70 g/day higher intake 1.15, 95% confidence intervals (CIs) 1.07–1.23), pneumonia (1.31, 1.18–1.44), diverticular disease (1.19, 1.11–1.28), colon polyps (1.10, 1.06–1.15), and diabetes (1.30, 1.20–1.42); results were similar for unprocessed red meat and processed meat intakes separately. Higher consumption of unprocessed red meat alone was associated with a lower risk of iron deficiency anaemia (IDA: HR per 50 g/day higher intake 0.80, 95% CIs 0.72–0.90). Higher poultry meat intake was associated with higher risks of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (HR per 30 g/day higher intake 1.17, 95% CIs 1.09–1.26), gastritis and duodenitis (1.12, 1.05–1.18), diverticular disease (1.10, 1.04–1.17), gallbladder disease (1.11, 1.04–1.19), and diabetes (1.14, 1.07–1.21), and a lower IDA risk (0.83, 0.76–0.90).

Conclusions

Higher unprocessed red meat, processed meat, and poultry meat consumption was associated with higher risks of several common conditions; higher BMI accounted for a substantial proportion of these increased risks suggesting that residual confounding or mediation by adiposity might account for some of these remaining associations. Higher unprocessed red meat and poultry meat consumption was associated with lower IDA risk.

SOURCES

https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-021-01922-9


The WHO team is expected to soon publish a 300-page final report on its investigation, after scrapping plans for an interim report on the origins of SARS-CoV-2 — the new coronavirus responsible for killing 2.7 million people globally

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

UPDATED on 4/1/2021

Coronavirus: More work needed to rule out China lab leak theory says WHO

START QUOTE

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said further investigation is needed to conclusively rule out that Covid-19 emerged from a laboratory in China.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that although a lab leak was the least likely cause, more research was needed.

The US and other countries have criticised China for failing to provide the WHO with sufficient data.

Beijing has always dismissed the allegations of a virus leak.

A report by WHO and Chinese experts released on Tuesday, said the lab leak explanation was highly unlikely and the virus had probably jumped from bats to humans via another intermediary animal.

China has yet to respond to the WHO’s latest statement.

‘All hypothesis on the table’

However the theory that the virus might have come from a leak in a laboratory “requires further investigation, potential with additional missions involving specialist experts,” Dr Tedros said on Tuesday.

“Let me say clearly that as far as WHO is concerned, all hypothesis remain on the table,” he added.

The virus was first detected in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province in late 2019. An international team of experts travelled to to the city in January to probe the origins of the virus.

The team investigated all possibilities, including one theory that the virus had originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The institute is the world’s leading authority on the collection, storage and study of bat coronaviruses.

International criticism

In response to the WHO report, the US and 13 allies including South Korea, Australia and the UK voiced concern over the findings and urged China to provide “full access” to experts.

The statement said the mission to Wuhan was “significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples”.

“Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.”

The group pledged to work together with the WHO.

Former US President Donald Trump was among those who supported the theory that the virus might have escaped from a lab.

WHO investigation team leader, Peter Ben Embarek said on Tuesday his team had felt under political pressure, including from outside China but said he was never pressed to remove anything from the team’s final report.

He also confirmed his team had found no evidence that any laboratories in Wuhan were involved in the outbreak.

MORE …

SOURCE

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-56581246

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Ex-CDC Director Robert Redfield believes COVID-19 came from Wuhan lab

By Lia Eustachewich

March 26, 2021 | 10:03am | Updated

START QUOTE

The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the virus that causes COVID-19 escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, according to a new interview.

Robert Redfield told CNN on Friday that it was his “opinion” that SARS-CoV-2 — the new coronavirus responsible for killing 2.7 million people globally — did not evolve naturally.

“I’m of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory — escaped,” said Redfield, who led the CDC during the height of the pandemic. “Other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out.”

Researchers believe the deadly and highly transmissible strain of coronavirus behind the global pandemic mutated from a virus that infects animals — namely, bats — to one that sickens humans.

But some believe the virus was somehow released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology — which is the only lab in China authorized to study the most dangerous known pathogens, according to Axios.

“It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker. … That’s not implying any intentionality,” Redfield said. “It’s my opinion, right? But I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology.

“I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and at that moment in time, that the virus came to the human, became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission.”

Redfield said usually when a virus jumps from animals to humans, “it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient in human-to-human transmission.”

SOURCE

START QUOTE

What they’re saying: “I’m of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory. Escaped. Other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out,” Redfield told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta.

  • “It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker. … That’s not implying any intentionality. It’s my opinion, right? But I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology,” he continued.
  • “I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and at that moment in time that the virus came to the human, became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission.”

Between the lines: Lab accidents in the U.S. are not especially rare, as USA Today’s Alison Young noted in a recent opinion piece arguing why the Wuhan lab theory cannot be ruled out. The CDC itself experienced a possible contamination in a lab where it was making COVID-19 test kits early in the pandemic.

What to watch: The WHO team is expected to soon publish a 300-page final report on its investigation, after scrapping plans for an interim report amid mounting tensions between the U.S. and China.

SOURCE


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Gene Therapy could be a Boon to Alzheimer’s disease (AD): A first-in-human clinical trial proposed

Reporter: Dr. Premalata Pati, Ph.D., Postdoc

A recent research work performed by the Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine has shared their first-in-human Phase I clinical trial to assess the safety and viability of gene therapy to deliver a key protein into the brains of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a condition that often precedes full-blown dementia.  

Mark Tuszynski, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Translational Neuroscience Institute at UC San Diego and team predicted that Gene therapy could be a boon to potential treatments for the disorders like AD and MCI.

The study provides an insight into the genetic source of these mental diseases.

The roots of mental disorders have remained an enigma for so many years. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. AD is a neurodegenerative condition. A buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, along with cell death, causes memory loss and cognitive decline. In most people with the disease, those with the late-onset type – symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. Alzheimer’s disease is the mostly appearing type of dementia in patients.

Drawing comparing a normal aged brain (left) and the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s (right).
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alzheimer%27s_disease

What the study impart?

Despite decades of effort and billions of dollars of research investment, there are just mere two symptomatic treatments for AD. There is no cure or approved way to slow or stop the progression of the neurological disorder that afflicts more than 5 million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Prof. Tuszynski said gene therapy has been tested on multiple diseases and conditions, represents a different approach to a disease that requires new ways of thinking about the disease and new attempts at treatments.

The research team found that delivering the BDNF to the part of the brain that is affected earliest in Alzheimer’s disease; the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus – was able to protect from ongoing cell degeneration by reversing the loss of connections. “These trials were observed in aged rats, amyloid mice, and aged monkeys.”

The protein, called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF, a family of growth factors found in the Brain and Central Nervous System that support the survival of existing neurons and promote growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses. BDNF is especially important in brain regions susceptible to degeneration in AD. It is normally produced throughout life in the entorhinal cortex, an important memory center in the brain and one of the first places where the effects of AD typically appear in the form of short-term memory loss. Persons with AD have diminished levels of BDNF.

However, BDNF is a large molecule and cannot pass through the Blood-Brain Barrier. As a solution, researchers will use gene therapy in which a harmless Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV2) is modified to carry the BDNF gene and injected directly into targeted regions of the brain, where researchers hope it will prompt the production of therapeutic BDNF in nearby cells.

Precautions were taken precisely in injecting the patient to avoid exposure to surrounding degenerating neurons since freely circulating BDNF can cause adverse effects, such as seizures or epileptic conditions.

The recent research and study speculate a safe and feasible assessment of the AAV2-BDNF pathway in humans. A previous gene therapy trial from 2001 to 2012 using AAV2 and a different protein called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) was carried out by Prof. Tuszynski and team where they observed immense growth, axonal sprouting, and activation of functional markers in the brains of participants.

He also shared that “The BDNF gene therapy trial in AD represents an advancement over the earlier NGF trial, BDNF is a more potent growth factor than NGF for neural circuits that degenerate in AD. Besides, new methods for delivering BDNF will more effectively deliver and distribute it into the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus.”

The research team hopes that the three-year-long trial will recruit 12 participants with either diagnosed AD or MCI to receive AAV2-BDNF treatment, with another 12 persons serving as comparative controls over that period.

The researchers have plans to build on recent successes of gene therapy in other diseases, including a breakthrough success in the treatment of congenital weakness in infants (spinal muscular atrophy) and blindness (Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, a form of retinitis pigmentosa).”

Main Source

https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/could-gene-therapy-halt-progression-alzheimers-disease-first-human-clinical-trial-will-seek?utm_source=fiat-lux

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