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breakthroughs from the lab.

ANTI-DEPRESSANT MAY HELP TREAT COVID-19

BY JIM DRYDEN

In a preliminary study of COVID-19 patients with mild-to-moderate disease who were attempting to recover in their homes, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have found that the anti-depressant drug fluvoxamine seems to prevent some of the most serious complications of the illness, and makes hospitalization and the need for supplemental oxygen less likely.

The study involved 152 people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Researchers compared the outcomes of those treated with fluvoxamine to the outcomes of those given an inactive placebo. After 15 days, none of the 80 people who had received the drug experienced serious clinical deterioration. Meanwhile, six of the 72 given placebo (8.3%) became seriously ill, with four requiring hospitalization.

fluvoxamine molecular structure
FLUVOXAMINE—SHOWN IN THE MOLECULAR FORMULA ABOVE—IS OFTEN USED TO TREAT OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER AND DEPRESSION.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

“The patients who took fluvoxamine did not develop serious breathing difficulties or require hospitalization for problems with lung function,” says the study’s first author, Eric Lenze, MD, Washington University psychiatrist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “Most investigational treatments for COVID-19 have been aimed at the very sickest patients, but it’s also important to find therapies that prevent patients from getting sick enough to require supplemental oxygen or to have to go to the hospital. Our study suggests fluvoxamine may help fill that niche.”

Fluvoxamine is used commonly to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder and depression. It is in a class of drugs known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), but unlike other SSRIs, fluvoxamine interacts strongly with a protein called the sigma-1 receptor. That receptor also helps regulate the body’s inflammatory response.

“There are several ways this drug might work to help COVID-19 patients, but we think it most likely may be interacting with the sigma-1 receptor to reduce the production of inflammatory molecules,” says Angela Reiersen, MD, Washington University psychiatrist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the study’s senior author. “Past research has demonstrated that fluvoxamine can reduce inflammation in animal models of sepsis, and it may be doing something similar in our patients.”

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NEW FOCUS ON EMERGING DISEASES

NEW FOCUS ON EMERGING DISEASES

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine are establishing an international collaboration that aims to help scientists prepare for the next pandemic and, perhaps, provide insight into the current one.

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DRUG COMPOUND BLOCKS NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS

DRUG COMPOUND BLOCKS NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

The spiral-shaped cochlea of the inner ear is responsible for detecting sound. Inner hair cells lining the cochlea transform the mechanical vibrations of sound waves into chemical signals. These chemicals—primarily one called glutamate—are then released from the hair cells and received by glutamate receptors on auditory nerve fibers. These fibers then send electrical impulses to the brain. There, the signals are interpreted as language, music or signs of danger, for example.

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CANCER CARE UPDATE: IMPROVING IMMUNOTHERAPY

CANCER CARE UPDATE: IMPROVING IMMUNOTHERAPY

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

In recent years, cancer immunotherapy drugs have revolutionized the treatment of certain cancers, such as lymphoma, lung cancer and melanoma. This kind of treatment works by triggering the body’s immune system to attack tumors. Some people respond well to immunotherapy drugs, while others don’t respond at all. Cancer immunologists want to change that.

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ONCOLOGY REPORT: LOWERING THE RISKS OF TREATMENT SIDE EFFECTS

ONCOLOGY REPORT: LOWERING THE RISKS OF TREATMENT SIDE EFFECTS

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

The current age of cancer care employs surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, in combination or alone, to eradicate tumors and offer the potential for remission. But the side effects of some of these therapies can introduce new complications requiring additional treatment. Oncologists and their patients work in tandem to fight the disease in ways that preserve life and protect health with as little risk as possible.

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POTENTIAL NEW THERAPY FOR CROHN’S, COLITIS IDENTIFIED

POTENTIAL NEW THERAPY FOR CROHN’S, COLITIS IDENTIFIED

BY TAMARA BHANDARI

More than 1 million people in the United States have inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. This condition, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, causes miserable episodes of abdominal pain, diarrhea and in severe cases, rectal bleeding, making life for those afflicted with the disease especially difficult.

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NEW ALZHEIMER’S BLOOD TEST MAY SPEED TREATMENT RESEARCH

NEW ALZHEIMER’S BLOOD TEST MAY SPEED TREATMENT RESEARCH

BY TAMARA BHANDARI

Up to two decades before people develop the characteristic memory loss and confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, damaging clumps of protein start to build up in their brains. And there is growing consensus among neurologists that Alzheimer’s treatment needs to begin as early as possible, ideally before any cognitive symptoms arise. By the time people become forgetful, their brains are so severely damaged no therapy is likely to fully heal them.

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