Category: Featured

Scientists say Baker’s reopening plan is sensible, but still concerning

May 19th, 2020 in Featured, In The News

Even as some businesses called for a more immediate reopening of the economy, public health experts’ first reaction Monday to Governor Baker’s conservative plan was worry — that more interaction would make a second wave of infections possible, perhaps likely.

Scientists who have followed the disease’s spread told the Globe that Baker’s plan made sense, and they were encouraged by recent statistics showing a downward trend in infections. Still, they were unenthused with the loosening of social distancing measures and suggested that it may lead to a future spike in Massachusetts, where 5,800 people have died and more than 1,000 new infections are still reported each day.

“We’re going in the right direction but we still have a lot of cases per day,” said Erin Bromage, a professor of immunology at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “It would be wise to get it lower before we start the interactions back up again.”

Baker’s plan allows for the immediate reopening of houses of worship, construction, and manufacturing sites, albeit with tight restrictions. Curbside retail, hair salons, and some lab and office spaces can follow next Monday under strict guidelines.

Several epidemiologists said that a return to worship services could be especially problematic — religious gatherings are the only ones in the state not limited to 10 people.

“Certainly, if you have 100 people inside a big room, that is a setting conducive for a super-spreading event,” even if everyone wears masks, said Samuel Scarpino, an epidemiologist at Northeastern University.


Click to Read Full Article in The Boston Globe

Scientists say the best treatment for COVID-19 may be a cocktail of medicines

May 18th, 2020 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

More than a dozen drug firms in Massachusetts are urgently searching for a medicine to treat COVID-19, but the most potent therapy may not end up being a single medication. Instead, medical experts say, the most effective way to battle the disease will likely be a combination of drugs taken together.

Two weeks after the federal government allowed hospitalized coronavirus patients to receive an experimental drug that provided only modest benefits, scientists say it increasingly appears the best treatment will be a cocktail of medicines similar to those used for other deadly infectious diseases, from tuberculosis to AIDS.

The need to develop drugs that can dramatically lessen symptoms of COVID-19 is especially crucial because a vaccine that could prevent the disease likely remains a year or more away.

Dr. Barry Bloom, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said he’s optimistic that one or more medicines better than remdesivir — the experimental Gilead Sciences drug cleared for “emergency use" on May 1 ― will be available by the year’s end. But he expects the standard of care will probably evolve and ultimately rely on a combination of drugs that pass muster in clinical trials.

“You don’t need only one drug,” said Bloom, a pioneer in global health who devoted much of his career to treating tuberculosis. “What we learned with HIV is that no one drug works very well. But if you put three drugs together that are pretty good drugs, you can control the virus for life.”

Click to Read Full Article in The Boston Globe

BU NEIDL Scientists Featured in NOVA’s Special Coronavirus Episode

May 15th, 2020 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

An hour-long PBS NOVA episode—which aired May 13—about the coronavirus pandemic featured scientists from Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), along with immunology and virus experts from across the United States, discussing the massive clinical and scientific response to the outbreak that has infected millions and killed more than 300,000 around the world.

“There are people who get this infection, shedding this virus before they get sick, and they may never have any symptoms,” Nahid Bhadelia, director of infection control at BU’s NEIDL, tells NOVA in its special “Decoding COVID-19” episode, which is now available to stream for free online. “This [pandemic] ends with most or all of us being immune to this virus, and ideally that’s through a vaccine.”

Bhadelia, who is also director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston Medical Center and was a frontline healthcare worker on the ground in West Africa during the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak, says the research and medical community was worried about the novel coronavirus from the moment they first learned of the mysterious respiratory illness spreading in Wuhan, China. “I think all of us held our breath because the question was, could this be that combination of a virus that’s both easy to transmit and perhaps maybe not as deadly as we might see with Ebola, but still have devastating impact on the resilience of our communities,” Bhadelia tells NOVA.

Click to Read Full Article on The Brink

BU Scientists Awarded $1.9 Million to Accelerate Coronavirus Research

May 14th, 2020 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

Since the novel and fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus first upended life in the United States and around the world, scientists at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) have dropped nearly every other research project to focus on understanding and combating the virus. Now, BU scientists have received nearly $1.9 million in new funding from the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness (MassCPR) to further advance coronavirus research—much of that work made possible by the NEIDL’s ability to safely house and work with live copies of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

All told, on May 13 MassCPR announced it has awarded $16.5 million to 62 coronavirus research projects, many of those funds going to research teams in Greater Boston. Much of the funded work will be done in collaboration with scientists at the NEIDL, one of only a handful of facilities in Massachusetts currently capable of working with live, patient-derived samples of the coronavirus. MassCPR—which first convened on March 2, 2020—is buoyed by $115 million in funding, spread over the next five years, from Evergrande Group, a Fortune Global 500 company in China. Participating research collaborators include scientists and clinicians from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, BU, Tufts University, University of Massachusetts, and local biomedical research institutes, biotech companies, and academic medical centers.

Click to Read Full Article on The Brink

Decoding COVID-19 (Video)

May 14th, 2020 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates, Video

Scientists race to understand and defeat the coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has upended life as we know it in a matter of mere months. But at the same time, an unprecedented global effort to understand and contain the virus—and find a treatment for the disease it causes—is underway. Join the doctors on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 as they strategize to stop the spread, and meet the researchers racing to develop treatments and vaccines. Along the way, discover how this devastating disease emerged, what it does to the human body, and why it exploded into a pandemic. (Premiered May 13, 2020)

Watch Full Episode on PBS

Mass. Hit A Plateau In New Virus Cases Last Week, But Numbers Still Raise Concern (Interview with Dr. Hamer)

May 12th, 2020 in Featured, In The News

Last week, Massachusetts hit a plateau in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19.

But the numbers are still concerning: In the past seven days, new daily infections have averaged well over 1,000, and nearly 5,000 people in the state have died from the disease.

Dr. David Hamer is a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University and an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center. He joined WBUR's Morning Edition for a weekly update on the state of the epidemic in Massachusetts.

This segment aired on May 11, 2020.

Listen to Full Interview on WBUR

Finding coronavirus’ patient zero; and a guilty bat

May 8th, 2020 in Featured, In The News

Tracking down COVID-19's patient zero and how that person first contracted the coronavirus may take years, especially as U.S.-China relations tumble to a new low.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the details of patient zero are "in the possession of only the Chinese Communist Party." Beijing denies any such cover-up. That heightened tension is complicating rather than helping researchers' efforts to collaborate with Chinese scientists to find answers. The ongoing travel restrictions due to COVID-19 also make it impossible for Americans to do on-the-ground research.

U.S. medical experts tell CBS News the virus may actually have been circulating among humans for some time before the late 2019 Wuhan outbreak. The origin of the COVID-19 virus — SARS-CoV-2 — could be determined by collecting blood samples from different parts of China that had been drawn and stored in the country prior to the winter of 2019, according to Dr. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity, and then testing them for antibodies to see if the virus was present in another area before the devastating Wuhan outbreak.

Click to Read Full Article on CBS News

Coronavirus immunity studies ‘encouraging’ for short-term protection from reinfection, says BU immunologist

May 7th, 2020 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

New studies provide “encouraging” proof that people who recover from the coronavirus gain protection from reinfection in the short term, but Boston University immunologist John Connor says it remains to be seen whether any will gain long-lasting immunity.

“What’s encouraging is that it says natural infection can lead to the development of antibodies and the hope is that they will be long-lasting,” said Connor, of Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories.

In a study slated to appear later this year in Immunity, a Cell Press science journal, researchers from various universities throughout China found 14 patients who recently recovered from the novel coronavirus all had some level of neutralizing response. Eight displayed cellular immunity upon discharge and two weeks later, six still had high levels of antibodies, suggesting protection from reinfection for some patients.

A second Chinese study that has not yet been peer-reviewed found similar results.

These are two first-of-of-a-kind studies as doctors and public health experts race to gain an understanding of the coronavirus and how it will continue to spread and infect populations across the globe amid predicted resurgences later this year and into the future.

Click to read full article in Boston Herald

Efforts to beat back the coronavirus are critical. They’re also making clinical trials harder

May 6th, 2020 in Featured, In The News

In March, a team of Chinese scientists studying whether the antiviral remdesivir was effective against Covid-19 ran into a problem. “Stringent public health measures used in Wuhan led to marked reductions in new patient presentations,” the researchers wrote. Without enough patients enrolled, the study ended early.

Last month, another Chinese team reported that a trial of the drug hydroxychloroquine had bumped into similar issues. “The recruitment of eligible patients was unexpectedly difficult,” the scientists wrote, explaining they had failed to reach their enrollment goal.

The snags reflect one of the paradoxes of infectious disease research — and one that could make it challenging to test experimental drugs and vaccines for Covid-19. When public health officials succeed in stamping out outbreaks, they also make it more difficult for researchers to find the volunteers they need for clinical trials. Earlier trials of drugs and vaccines for Zika and Ebola were stymied by such obstacles.

Click to read full article on STAT

When Will Mass. Start To See The Infection Curve Go Down?

May 5th, 2020 in Featured, In The News

More than 4,000 people have now died from COVID-19 in Massachusetts, which means the commonwealth has the fourth highest official death toll related to the coronavirus in the country.

And the rate of newly confirmed cases and deaths remains steady in the state.

So, when will we start to see the backend of this so-called infection curve?

For perspective on this, WBUR's Morning Edition turned to Dr. David Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University, and an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center.

Interview Highlights

On when the current plateau in COVID-19-related deaths will start to decline

Hamer: "I actually think that we're at the end of the plateau and there's a gradual decline in new infections – at least hospitalizations for new infections. This is based on data ... from around the Boston area. Boston Medical Center, for example, has started to see a gradual drop-off. So I think the plateau was really last week and that we should see a progressive decline over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, I think it may be a more gradual decline than some of the initial graphs had estimated, which suggested a very rapid fall."

Click to read full article on WBUR