Scientists at the Department of Health in the United Kingdom announced that they’re releasing new tests for COVID-19 that can provide results in under 90 minutes. Two separate tests are going to be used to identify the coronavirus and several other common viruses. The tests will be distributed to hospitals, labs, and nursing homes throughout the country starting next week.
The goal of getting test results so quickly is to help reduce transmission by detecting infections rapidly. This is key for contact tracing to be effective. As far as accuracy, officials say the tests have the same level of sensitivity as the widely used PCR swab test.
With the race to reduce testing time continuing, others are looking for ways to help those stricken by the virus to recover. One of the significant issues with COVID-19 is that it significantly impacts the lungs. Our drive to breathe is automatic, but the ability to take a deep breath is dependent on the functionality of the muscles in between our ribs and diaphragm inside our chest. If a person has the virus, especially with they’ve required hospitalization and ventilation, these muscles become stiff and weak, which doesn’t allow for easy expansion of the lungs, which makes it harder to take deep enough breaths to get the oxygen the body needs.
Some physical therapists are turning to a technique called manual therapy to help people regain more mobility in the stiffened muscles. During this type of treatment, the muscles between the ribs are massaged, followed by breathing exercises to spread out the diaphragm. This helps to release the tension in the muscles and strengthen them, which encourages better lung expansion. After learning the techniques, you can do them by yourself at home. Patients who have used the method have seen improvements in their oxygen saturation levels and the ease of breathing.
Besides slowing the spread of the virus through better testing and helping patients recover faster, a primary focus of research is to prevent infections altogether. One area that is being closely looked at is monoclonal antibody therapies (mAbs). They can fight infection by copying the immune system allowing them to attack infected cells and prevent infection by attaching onto the virus and smoothing over its outer surface so it can’t adhere to healthy cells.
To make them, scientists must look through hundreds of thousands of antibodies in the blood of recovered patients. They find the most potent and alter them so they become powerful disease-fighting agents. The concept of monoclonal antibodies isn’t new. It started as a way for kidney transplant patients not to reject their new organs in 1986. Since then, it’s been used to treat cancers and autoimmune disorders. Given that it’s already approved for these uses, if the clinical trials for COVID-19 are successful, it could be approved to go to market much quicker than a new type of treatment.
Monoclonal antibody therapy is similar to convalescent plasma transfusions, which is when blood plasma from recovered individuals is given to those currently fighting the virus. However, it’s thought to be more effective since it isolates specific molecules that are targeted toward the particular pathogen and mass produce them in a concentrated serum. The only downfall is that immunity doesn’t last long. Scientists estimate maybe one month per dose. So, it would be most beneficial to give to those who are at high risk and would probably need to be repeated when necessary. The hope with COVID-19 is that it could provide a way to help reduce the number of infections until a vaccine is available.