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St. Jude scientists make breakthrough and discover possible COVID-19 treatment

(KOLO)
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 3:12 AM EST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Scientists at St. Jude may have figured out how COVID-19 kills, and more importantly, how to stop it.

The virus has already claimed 250,000 lives in the U.S. and more than one million worldwide. This week, St. Jude researchers announced they think they’ve discovered a treatment.

Anyone with allergies, histamine intolerance, rheumatoid arthritis, or a compromised immune system knows what it’s like to have problems with inflammation. The swelling and pain make it difficult to breathe or to move. The same thing happens with COVID-19.

This virus triggers severe inflammation that cripples the lungs and damages other organs. St. Jude researchers say they’ve identified the mechanisms that drive COVID-19 inflammation and the medicines that can treat it.

The team focused on cytokines, small proteins released in the body in response to inflammation. They concentrated on the most elevated cytokines in COVID-19 patients and found one duo that stood out.

Turns out, the drugs to treat these cytokine reactions, or cytokine storms, already exist.

When tried on mice, the medication protected them from COVID-19 death and from sepsis, a deadly infection of the blood.

“I’ve never been this excited in my entire career,” St. Jude researcher, Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, Ph.D, told WMC Action News 5, “because this can save lives. The other studies that we have in our lab, they might go into textbooks, and in the long run, they might be in the clinic. But this immediate application is the best thing. I wish starting tomorrow we could treat patients with this.”

So now these drugs will be used in clinical trials on COVID-19 patients. If that goes well, FDA approval is the next step.

Researching this treatment may also benefit those who have auto-inflammatory diseases. This work was made possible by grants from ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude, and by the National Institutes of Health.

The St. Jude findings were peer-reviewed and published in the science journal: https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)31542-7

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