In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gladstone scientists have rapidly pivoted the focus of their research labs to the novel virus, SARS-CoV-2. Specifically, they are leveraging their established tools, unique infrastructure, and diverse expertise in virology to develop improved diagnostics, identify targeted treatment strategies, and invent preventative approaches.
Gladstone scientists were instrumental in converting HIV/AIDS from a uniformly lethal disease into a chronic condition, and are now bringing the same urgency and focus to combatting COVID-19 in a comprehensive manner.
Image Credit: Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0
How Gladstone Is Contributing
Jennifer Doudna, PhD, co-inventor of CRISPR technology, and virologist Melanie Ott, MD, PhD, are collaborating to develop a CRISPR-based method to rapidly measure COVID-19 RNA. By combining the technique with smartphone technology, they aim to develop a diagnostic that could deliver rapid results and be widely deployed even far from traditional labs, such as in airports and other ports of entry, and in remote communities throughout the world.
Nevan Krogan, PhD, has discovered human host cell proteins that interact with the virus, and may serve as drug targets. Melanie Ott, Bruce Conklin, MD, and Todd McDevitt, PhD, will test the effects of the virus and drug candidates in human lung “organoids” and human heart cells, both developed from human stem cells. Virologist Warner Greene, MD, PhD, is studying how the virus enters cells, and will screen a library of FDA-approved drugs to identify those that could be rapidly repurposed as a treatment to stop cellular entry and spread of the virus.
Leor Weinberger, PhD, has pioneered an innovative approach to fighting the spread of viral pathogens called therapeutic interfering particles (TIPs), which could be an alternative to a vaccine. TIPs turn the tables on the virus by hijacking its machinery to transform virus-infected cells into factories that produce even more therapeutic particles, amplifying the effect of TIPs in stopping the spread of the virus.
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How Does the Coronavirus Spread?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that predominantly circulate in bats. They occasionally transmit from bats to other animals, and then to people. The virus responsible for the current outbreak, now called SARS-CoV-2, is thought to primarily spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets, which are created when a person coughs or sneezes.
What Are the Symptoms of Infection, and When Should People Seek Medical Advice?
The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Most people will recover on their own by keeping their fever under control, using a room humidifier, staying well-hydrated, and basically staying home to rest. If symptoms become worse or concerning, call your health care provider.
How Long Can the Coronavirus Survive on Various Surfaces?
Recent studies, published but not yet peer-reviewed, indicate that the coronavirus can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to 2 to 3 days, on cardboard for 24 hours, and on copper for 4 hours. That means you should consider every doorknob potentially contaminated. Bottom line: Keep your hands away from your face and wash your hands frequently, decontaminate your workspace, your computer and keyboard, your phone, and figure out a good way to open doors that reduces your chances of contaminating your hands.
How Does Testing Work and Who Can Administer the Test?
The test looks for the virus itself, not for antibodies against the virus. It is based on nasal swabs or pharyngeal (throat) swabs, which according to Chinese studies, is where there is the highest amount of virus. At first, all testing was centralized at the CDC, which is why it took so long for testing to become widespread. Now the CDC has allowed more laboratories, including from the private sector, and companies to carry out the test. UCSF has developed a test for clinical use but capacity is limited. However, the numbers will increase, and testing will be more and more available. Currently, as testing is still limited, a doctor has to approve it—for instance for people with clear symptoms or people who have been in close contact with an infected person.
Are There Extra Precautions One Should Take If Pregnant?
As far as we know today, there is no known risk to the fetus if the mother is affected with COVID-19, at least in the late stages of the pregnancy, so this is very different from other illnesses like the Zika virus infection. But it is clear that pregnant women have a somewhat weakened immune system, so if you are pregnant, you are generally more susceptible to infection (by any virus), and extra precautions should be taken. You should practice social distancing, and all the hygiene recommendations that are in place should be taken very seriously. Find out more about higher-risk populations.
“Gladstone is perfectly positioned to respond to the current coronavirus pandemic. Our scientists are working together to pivot their research to address this major public health crisis.”
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