Here’s the company’s president and CEO [chief executive officer], Dr. Thomas Madden explaining his company’s delivery system (from Acuitas’ news and events webpage),
For anyone who might find a textual description about the vaccine helpful, I have a Nov. 9, 2020 article by Adele Peters for Fast Company,
… a handful of small biotech companies began scrambling to develop vaccines using an as-yet-unproven technology platform that relies on something called messenger RNA [ribonucleic acid], usually shortened to mRNA …
Like other vaccines, mRNA vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize a threat like a virus and begin producing antibodies to protect itself. But while traditional vaccines often use inactivated doses of the organisms that cause disease, mRNA vaccines are designed to make the body produce those proteins itself. Messenger RNA—a molecule that contains instructions for cells to make DNA—is injected into cells. In the case of COVID-19, mRNA vaccines provide instructions for cells to start producing the “spike” protein of the new coronavirus, the protein that helps the virus get into cells. On its own, the spike protein isn’t harmful. But it triggers the immune system to begin a defensive response. As Bill Gates, who has supported companies like Moderna and BioNTech through the Gates Foundation, has described it, “you essentially turn your body into its own manufacturing unit.”
Amy Judd’s Nov. 9, 2020 article for Global news online explains (or you can just take another look at the video to refresh your memory) how the Acuitas technology fits into the vaccine picture,
Vancouver-based Acuitas Therapeutics, a biotechnology company, is playing a key role through a technology known as lipid nanoparticles, which deliver messenger RNA into cells.
“The technology we provide to our partners is lipid nanoparticles and BioNTech and Pfizer are developing a vaccine that’s using a messenger RNA that tells our cells how to make a protein that’s actually found in the COVID-19 virus,” Dr. Thomas Madden, president and CEO of Acuitas Therapeutics, told Global News Monday [Nov. 9, 2020].
“But the messenger RNA can’t work by itself, it needs a delivery technology to protect this after it’s administered and then to carry it into the cells where it can be expressed and give rise to an immune response.”
Madden said they like to think of the lipid nanoparticles as protective wrapping around a fragile glass ornament [emphasis mine] being shipped to your house online. That protective wrapping would then make sure the ornament made it to your house, through your front door, then unwrap itself and leave in your hallway, ready for you to come and grab it when you came home.
Acuitas Therapeutics employs 29 people and Madden said he believes everyone is feeling very proud of their work.
“Not many people are aware of the history of this technology and the fact that it originated in Vancouver,” he added.
“Dr. Pieter Cullis was one of the key scientists who brought together a team to develop this technology many, many years ago. UBC and Vancouver and companies associated with those scientists have been at the global centre of this technology for many years now.
“I think we’ve been looking for a light at the end of the tunnel for quite some time. I think everybody has been hoping that a vaccine would be able to provide the protection we need to move out of our current situation and I think this is now a confirmation that this hope wasn’t misplaced.”
Nanomedicine in Vancouver
For anyone who’s curious about the Canadian nanomedicine scene, you can find out more about it on Canada’s NanoMedicines Innovation Network (NMIN) website. They recently held a virtual event (Vancouver Nanomedicine Day) on Sept. 17, 2020 (see my Sept. 11, 2020 posting for details), which featured a presentation about Aquitas’ technology.
Happily, the organizers have posted videos for most of the sessions. Dr. Ying Tam of Acuitas made this presentation (about 22 mins. running time) “A Novel Vaccine Approach Using Messenger RNA‐Lipid Nanoparticles: Preclinical and Clinical Perspectives.” If you’re interested in that video or any of the others go to the NanoMedicines Innovation Network’s Nanomedicine Day 2020 webpage.
Scientists are working overtime to find an effective treatment for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Many of these efforts target a specific part of the virus, such as the spike protein. Now, researchers reporting in Nano Letters have taken a different approach, using nanosponges coated with human cell membranes –– the natural targets of the virus –– to soak up SARS-CoV-2 and keep it from infecting cells in a petri dish.
To gain entry, SARS-CoV-2 uses its spike protein to bind to two known proteins on human cells, called ACE2 and CD147. Blocking these interactions would keep the virus from infecting cells, so many researchers are trying to identify drugs directed against the spike protein. Anthony Griffiths, Liangfang Zhang and colleagues had a different idea: making a nanoparticle decoy with the virus’ natural targets, including ACE2 and CD147, to lure SARS-CoV-2 away from cells. And to test this idea, they conducted experiments with the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus in a biosafety level 4 lab.
The researchers coated a nanoparticle polymer core with cell membranes from either human lung epithelial cells or macrophages –– two cell types infected by SARS-CoV-2. They showed that the nanosponges had ACE2 and CD147, as well as other cell membrane proteins, projecting outward from the polymer core. When administered to mice, the nanosponges did not show any short-term toxicity. Then, the researchers treated cells in a dish with SARS-CoV-2 and the lung epithelial or macrophage nanosponges. Both decoys neutralized SARS-CoV-2 and prevented it from infecting cells to a similar extent. The researchers plan to next test the nanosponges in animals before moving to human clinical trials. In theory, the nanosponge approach would work even if SARS-CoV-2 mutates to resist other therapies, and it could be used against other viruses, as well, the researchers say.
There are two research teams involved, one at Boston University and the other at the University of California at San Diego (UC San Diego or UCSD). The June 18, 2020 Boston University news release (also on EurekAlert) by Kat J. McAlpine adds more details about the research, provides some insights from the researchers, and is a little redundant if you’ve already seen the ACS news release,
Imagine if scientists could stop the coronavirus infection in its tracks simply by diverting its attention away from living lung cells? A new therapeutic countermeasure, announced in a Nano Letters study by researchers from Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) and the University of California San Diego, appears to do just that in experiments that were carried out at the NEIDL in Boston.
“I was skeptical at the beginning because it seemed too good to be true,” says NEIDL microbiologist Anna Honko, one of the co-first authors on the study. “But when I saw the first set of results in the lab, I was just astonished.”
The technology consists of very small, nanosized drops of polymers–essentially, soft biofriendly plastics–covered in fragments of living lung cell and immune cell membranes.
“It looks like a nanoparticle coated in pieces of cell membrane,” Honko says. “The small polymer [droplet] mimics a cell having a membrane around it.”
The SARS-CoV-2 virus seeks out unique signatures of lung cell membranes and latches onto them. When that happens inside the human body, the coronavirus infection takes hold, with the SARS-CoV-2 viruses hijacking lung cells to replicate their own genetic material. But in experiments at the NEIDL, BU researchers observed that polymer droplets laden with pieces of lung cell membrane did a better job of attracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus than living lung cells. [emphasis mine]
By fusing with the SARS-CoV-2 virus better than living cells can, the nanotechnology appears to be an effective countermeasure to coronavirus infection, preventing SARS-CoV-2 from attacking cells.
“Our guess is that it acts like a decoy, it competes with cells for the virus,” says NEIDL microbiologist Anthony Griffiths, co-corresponding author on the study. “They are little bits of plastic, just containing the outer pieces of cells with none of the internal cellular machinery contained inside living cells. Conceptually, it’s such a simple idea. It mops up the virus like a sponge.”
That attribute is why the UC San Diego and BU research team call the technology “nanosponges.” Once SARS-CoV-2 binds with the cell fragments inside a nanosponge droplet–each one a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair–the coronavirus dies. Although the initial results are based on experiments conducted in cell culture dishes, the researchers believe that inside a human body, the biodegradable nanosponges and the SARS-CoV-2 virus trapped inside them could then be disposed of by the body’s immune system. The immune system routinely breaks down and gets rid of dead cell fragments caused by infection or normal cell life cycles.
There is also another important effect that the nanosponges have in the context of coronavirus infection. Honko says nanosponges containing fragments of immune cells can soak up cellular signals that increase inflammation [emphases mine]. Acute respiratory distress, caused by an inflammatory cascade inside the lungs, is the most deadly aspect of the coronavirus infection, sending patients into the intensive care unit for oxygen or ventilator support to help them breathe.
But the nanosponges, which can attract the inflammatory molecules that send the immune system into dangerous overdrive, can help tamp down that response, Honko says. By using both kinds of nanosponges, some containing lung cell fragments and some containing pieces of immune cells, she says it’s possible to “attack the coronavirus and the [body’s] response” responsible for disease and eventual lung failure.
At the NEIDL, Honko and Griffiths are now planning additional experiments to see how well the nanosponges can prevent coronavirus infection in animal models of the disease. They plan to work closely with the team of engineers at UC San Diego, who first developed the nanosponges more than a decade ago, to tailor the technology for eventual safe and effective use in humans.
“Traditionally, drug developers for infectious diseases dive deep on the details of the pathogen in order to find druggable targets,” said Liangfang Zhang, a UC San Diego nanoengineer and leader of the California-based team, according to a UC San Diego press release. “Our approach is different. We only need to know what the target cells are. And then we aim to protect the targets by creating biomimetic decoys.”
When the novel coronavirus first appeared, the idea of using the nanosponges to combat the infection came to Zhang almost immediately. He reached out to the NEIDL for help. Looking ahead, the BU and UC San Diego collaborators believe the nanosponges can easily be converted into a noninvasive treatment.
“We should be able to drop it right into the nose,” Griffiths says. “In humans, it could be something like a nasal spray.”
Honko agrees: “That would be an easy and safe administration method that should target the appropriate [respiratory] tissues. And if you wanted to treat patients that are already intubated, you could deliver it straight into the lung.”
Griffiths and Honko are especially intrigued by the nanosponges as a new platform for treating all types of viral infections. “The broad spectrum aspect of this is exceptionally appealing,” Griffiths says. The researchers say the nanosponge could be easily adapted to house other types of cell membranes preferred by other viruses, creating many new opportunities to use the technology against other tough-to-treat infections like the flu and even deadly hemorrhagic fevers caused by Ebola, Marburg, or Lassa viruses.
“I’m interested in seeing how far we can push this technology,” Honko says.
The University of California at* San Diego has released a video illustrating the nanosponges work,
Nanoparticles cloaked in human lung cell membranes and human immune cell membranes can attract and neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus in cell culture, causing the virus to lose its ability to hijack host cells and reproduce.
The first data describing this new direction for fighting COVID-19 were published on June 17 in the journal Nano Letters. The “nanosponges” were developed by engineers at the University of California San Diego and tested by researchers at Boston University.
The UC San Diego researchers call their nano-scale particles “nanosponges” because they soak up harmful pathogens and toxins.
In lab experiments, both the lung cell and immune cell types of nanosponges caused the SARS-CoV-2 virus to lose nearly 90% of its “viral infectivity” in a dose-dependent manner. Viral infectivity is a measure of the ability of the virus to enter the host cell and exploit its resources to replicate and produce additional infectious viral particles.
Instead of targeting the virus itself, these nanosponges are designed to protect the healthy cells the virus invades.
“Traditionally, drug developers for infectious diseases dive deep on the details of the pathogen in order to find druggable targets. Our approach is different. We only need to know what the target cells are. And then we aim to protect the targets by creating biomimetic decoys,” said Liangfang Zhang, a nanoengineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
His lab first created this biomimetic nanosponge platform more than a decade ago and has been developing it for a wide range of applications ever since [emphasis mine]. When the novel coronavirus appeared, the idea of using the nanosponge platform to fight it came to Zhang “almost immediately,” he said.
In addition to the encouraging data on neutralizing the virus in cell culture, the researchers note that nanosponges cloaked with fragments of the outer membranes of macrophages could have an added benefit: soaking up inflammatory cytokine proteins, which are implicated in some of the most dangerous aspects of COVID-19 and are driven by immune response to the infection.
Making and testing COVID-19 nanosponges
Each COVID-19 nanosponge–a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair–consists of a polymer core coated in cell membranes extracted from either lung epithelial type II cells or macrophage cells. The membranes cover the sponges with all the same protein receptors as the cells they impersonate–and this inherently includes whatever receptors SARS-CoV-2 uses to enter cells in the body.
The researchers prepared several different concentrations of nanosponges in solution to test against the novel coronavirus. To test the ability of the nanosponges to block SARS-CoV-2 infectivity, the UC San Diego researchers turned to a team at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) to perform independent tests. In this BSL-4 lab–the highest biosafety level for a research facility–the researchers, led by Anthony Griffiths, associate professor of microbiology at Boston University School of Medicine, tested the ability of various concentrations of each nanosponge type to reduce the infectivity of live SARS-CoV-2 virus–the same strains that are being tested in other COVID-19 therapeutic and vaccine research.
At a concentration of 5 milligrams per milliliter, the lung cell membrane-cloaked sponges inhibited 93% of the viral infectivity of SARS-CoV-2. The macrophage-cloaked sponges inhibited 88% of the viral infectivity of SARS-CoV-2. Viral infectivity is a measure of the ability of the virus to enter the host cell and exploit its resources to replicate and produce additional infectious viral particles.
“From the perspective of an immunologist and virologist, the nanosponge platform was immediately appealing as a potential antiviral because of its ability to work against viruses of any kind. This means that as opposed to a drug or antibody that might very specifically block SARS-CoV-2 infection or replication, these cell membrane nanosponges might function in a more holistic manner in treating a broad spectrum of viral infectious diseases. I was optimistically skeptical initially that it would work, and then thrilled once I saw the results and it sunk in what this could mean for therapeutic development as a whole,” said Anna Honko, a co-first author on the paper and a Research Associate Professor, Microbiology at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL).
In the next few months, the UC San Diego researchers and collaborators will evaluate the nanosponges’ efficacy in animal models. The UC San Diego team has already shown short-term safety in the respiratory tracts and lungs of mice. If and when these COVID-19 nanosponges will be tested in humans depends on a variety of factors, but the researchers are moving as fast as possible.
“Another interesting aspect of our approach is that even as SARS-CoV-2 mutates, as long as the virus can still invade the cells we are mimicking, our nanosponge approach should still work. I’m not sure this can be said for some of the vaccines and therapeutics that are currently being developed,” said Zhang.
The researchers also expect these nanosponges would work against any new coronavirus or even other respiratory viruses, including whatever virus might trigger the next respiratory pandemic.
Mimicking lung epithelial cells and immune cells
Since the novel coronavirus often infects lung epithelial cells as the first step in COVID-19 infection, Zhang and his colleagues reasoned that it would make sense to cloak a nanoparticle in fragments of the outer membranes of lung epithelial cells to see if the virus could be tricked into latching on it instead of a lung cell.
Macrophages, which are white blood cells that play a major role in inflammation, also are very active in the lung during the course of a COVID-19 illness, so Zhang and colleagues created a second sponge cloaked in macrophage membrane.
The research team plans to study whether the macrophage sponges also have the ability to quiet cytokine storms in COVID-19 patients.
“We will see if the macrophage nanosponges can neutralize the excessive amount of these cytokines as well as neutralize the virus,” said Zhang.
Using macrophage cell fragments as cloaks builds on years of work to develop therapies for sepsis using macrophage nanosponges.
In a paper published in 2017 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Zhang and a team of researchers at UC San Diego showed that macrophage nanosponges can safely neutralize both endotoxins and pro-inflammatory cytokines in the bloodstream of mice. A San Diego biotechnology company co-founded by Zhang called Cellics Therapeutics is working to translate this macrophage nanosponge work into the clinic.
A potential COVID-19 therapeutic The COVID-19 nanosponge platform has significant testing ahead of it before scientists know whether it would be a safe and effective therapy against the virus in humans, Zhang cautioned [emphasis mine]. But if the sponges reach the clinical trial stage, there are multiple potential ways of delivering the therapy that include direct delivery into the lung for intubated patients, via an inhaler like for asthmatic patients, or intravenously, especially to treat the complication of cytokine storm.
A therapeutic dose of nanosponges might flood the lung with a trillion or more tiny nanosponges that could draw the virus away from healthy cells. Once the virus binds with a sponge, “it loses its viability and is not infective anymore, and will be taken up by our own immune cells and digested,” said Zhang.
“I see potential for a preventive treatment, for a therapeutic that could be given early because once the nanosponges get in the lung, they can stay in the lung for some time,” Zhang said. “If a virus comes, it could be blocked if there are nanosponges waiting for it.”
Growing momentum for nanosponges
Zhang’s lab at UC San Diego created the first membrane-cloaked nanoparticles over a decade ago. The first of these nanosponges were cloaked with fragments of red blood cell membranes. These nanosponges are being developed to treat bacterial pneumonia and have undergone all stages of pre-clinical testing by Cellics Therapeutics, the San Diego startup cofounded by Zhang. The company is currently in the process of submitting the investigational new drug (IND) application to the FDA for their lead candidate: red blood cell nanosponges for the treatment of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) pneumonia. The company estimates the first patients in a clinical trial will be dosed next year.
The UC San Diego researchers have also shown that nanosponges can deliver drugs to a wound site; sop up bacterial toxins that trigger sepsis; and intercept HIV before it can infect human T cells.
The basic construction for each of these nanosponges is the same: a biodegradable, FDA-approved polymer core is coated in a specific type of cell membrane, so that it might be disguised as a red blood cell, or an immune T cell or a platelet cell. The cloaking keeps the immune system from spotting and attacking the particles as dangerous invaders.
“I think of the cell membrane fragments as the active ingredients. This is a different way of looking at drug development,” said Zhang. “For COVID-19, I hope other teams come up with safe and effective therapies and vaccines as soon as possible. At the same time, we are working and planning as if the world is counting on us.”
I wish the researchers good luck. For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
The United Nations (UN) wants COVID-19 themed graphic & visual art by April 9, 2020 at 6 pm, London (almost certainly UK) local time; the Canadian Science Policy Centre is accepting submissions for editorials with an unusual two-tiered deadline, and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California has issued an art challenge for everyone.
United Nations (UN) call for submissions and creative brief
‘If you have something appropriate and ready-to-go, send it now’ is the message from the United Nations. Here’s more about the call from a March 31, 2020 article by Evan Nicole Brown for Fast Company (Note: A link has been removed),
Are you creative? Do you want to help fight COVID-19 but don’t know where to start? The UN is calling on artists and designers to create public service announcements that both engage and inform at-risk citizens around the world.
“We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply. We cannot resort to the usual tools in such unusual times. The creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said about the open brief in a statement.
The call was so successful that on the day of its launch (March 30, 2020), it had to be moved to the Talenthouse portal. For anyone who hasn’t heard of them before, the company bills itself as “The World’s leading creative collaboration platform for brands & agencies”
All participants are contributing toward stopping the spread of coronavirus, and together we help save lives, protect resources and care for each other.
A minimum of 10 pieces of work will be chosen by the Selection Panel. And in support of this global campaign, the Selected Creators will all:
Have their work shared across UN and media supporter channels, reaching a global audience
Have their work shared across TLNT channels (including Talenthouse, Ello and/or Zooppa), reaching over 4 million creators and fans around the world
Have their work seen and potentially shared by a global audience across every industry
Potentially receive additional exposure through having their work showcased in digital galleries, physical exhibitions amongst other opportunities
Launch: March 30, 2020 at 5:00 PM
Submission Deadline: April 9, 2020 at 6:00 PM
Creators Selected: April 22, 2020 at 6:00 PM
All times are in London Local Time.
Editorials on COVID-19 for the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC)
I received a call for editorial submissions from the CSPC in an April 1, 2020 email,
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change our lives and policies, CSPC has put a call for editorials on the impacts of this global health challenge, specifically on the topics including: Policy Development, Lessons Learned from Managing Global Health Challenges, Scientific & Economic Impacts, Social Impacts.
Editorials will be published as a special edition on the CSPC website, shared through CSPC social media channels, and in upcoming CSPC newsletters; ensuring wide exposure to stakeholders in science, technology, and innovation across Canada.
If you have any questions about writing an editorial for CSPC, or would like to submit your editorial piece, email CSPC Editorial Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for what I meant when I said the submission deadline is unusual (from the Call webpage),
Acknowledging the unpredictability and rapid evolution of COVID-19 related developments, we request only that you confirm your intent to submit an article for this series by Friday April 3rd, 2020.The publications will be posted online on a rolling basis, as we receive them at the convenience of the authors. These articles will also be collected into a final edition for release and promotion. The submission deadline to be included in the first edition release of the editorials is Friday April 17th, 2020.
Editorials will be published as a special edition on the CSPC website, shared through CSPC social media channels, and in upcoming CSPC newsletters; ensuring wide exposure to stakeholders in science, technology, and innovation across Canada.
Getty Museum and an artwork challenge (using household items)
The pictures are starting to pop up everywhere and the challenge was only issued on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 by the Getty Museum. Here’s more from a March 30, 2020 posting by Sarah Waldorf and Annelisa Stephan on the Getty Museum’s Iris blog,
On Wednesday (March 25, 2020] we issued a playful challenge on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to re-create your favorite art using just three objects lying around home. And wow, did you respond! Thousands and thousands of re-creations later, we’re in awe of your creative powers and sense of humor.
“Pasta being life for a 6-year-old, it was first selected, followed by the boiled eggs, which happened to be cooling off to the side,” Christian told us. Next came a brown paper bag as the canvas, and a basil stem from last night’s dinner. “It was truly wonderful to let art be the answer and escape in such a volatile environment,” he added.
As I don’t belong to Instagram or Facebook, I can’t access the images (from the Getty or the Rijksmuseum) posted on those sites for a leisurely look. As for Twitter, the Getty Museum haven’t posted many images there. However, as I noted these are popping up everywhere.
Here are two options in addition to the Iris blog posting for more pictures from the Getty challenge, if you don’t want to join Instagram or Facebook to get access: (1) a March 31, 2020 article by KC Ifeanyi for Fast Company and an April 1, 2020 article by Emily Rumball for the Daily Hive. Both articles host lots of images and there is very little crossover between the pictures in the two articles and very little crossover between the pictures in the articles and in the Getty Museum blog posting.
Last week (specifically, Tuesday, March 3, 2020), someone moved away from me during a class. I’d sneezed.
The irony of the situation is that of the two of us, with my lung issues I’d be the one most at risk of getting very ill and/or dying from COVID-19. ( Yes, I confirmed that was the reason she’d moved.  The therapeutic nanoparticles news item is coming later) Here are the risk factors to take into account (from the US Centers for Disease Control’s People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19 webpage,
Older adults [Note: In one report the age range was stated as ‘people over 70’]
People who have serious chronic medical conditions like:
I’m not suggesting that all precautions be abandoned but it would seem that panic might not be called for. Jeremy Samuel Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, faculty in its division of health policy and public health, and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, has written a calming March 4, 2020 article (COVID-19 Isn’t As Deadly As We Think; Don’t hoard masks and food. Figure out how to help seniors and the immunosuppressed stay healthy.) for Slate.com (Note: Links have been removed],
There are many compelling reasons to conclude that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is not nearly as deadly as is currently feared. But COVID-19 panic has set in nonetheless. You can’t find hand sanitizer in stores, and N95 face masks are being sold online for exorbitant prices, never mind that neither is the best way to protect against the virus (yes, just wash your hands). The public is behaving as if this epidemic is the next Spanish flu, which is frankly understandable given that initial reports have staked COVID-19 mortality at about 2–3 percent, quite similar to the 1918 pandemic that killed tens of millions of people.
Allow me to be the bearer of good news. These frightening numbers are unlikely to hold. The true case fatality rate, known as CFR, of this virus is likely to be far lower than current reports suggest. Even some lower estimates, such as the 1 percent death rate recently mentioned by the directors of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, likely substantially overstate the case. [emphases mine]
But the most straightforward and compelling evidence that the true case fatality rate of SARS-CoV-2 is well under 1 percent comes not from statistical trends and methodological massage, but from data from the Diamond Princess cruise outbreak and subsequent quarantine off the coast of Japan.
A quarantined boat is an ideal—if unfortunate—natural laboratory to study a virus. Many variables normally impossible to control are controlled. We know that all but one patient boarded the boat without the virus. We know that the other passengers were healthy enough to travel. We know their whereabouts and exposures. While the numbers coming out of China are scary, we don’t know how many of those patients were already ill for other reasons. How many were already hospitalized for another life-threatening illness and then caught the virus? How many were completely healthy, caught the virus, and developed a critical illness? In the real world, we just don’t know.
Here’s the problem with looking at mortality numbers in a general setting: In China, 9 million people die per year, which comes out to 25,000 people every single day, or around 1.5 million people over the past two months alone. A significant fraction of these deaths results from diseases like emphysema/COPD, lower respiratory infections, and cancers of the lung and airway whose symptoms are clinically indistinguishable from the nonspecific symptoms seen in severe COVID-19 cases. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the death rate from COVID-19 in China spiked precisely among the same age groups in which these chronic diseases first become common. During the peak of the outbreak in China in January and early February, around 25 patients per day were dying with SARS-CoV-2. Most were older patients in whom the chronic diseases listed above are prevalent. Most deaths occurred in Hubei province, an area in which lung cancer and emphysema/COPD are significantly higher than national averages in China, a country where half of all men smoke. How were doctors supposed to sort out which of those 25 out of 25,000 daily deaths were solely due to coronavirus, and which were more complicated? What we need to know is how many excess deaths this virus causes.
This all suggests that COVID-19 is a relatively benign disease for most young people, and a potentially devastating one for the old and chronically ill, albeit not nearly as risky as reported. Given the low mortality rate among younger patients with coronavirus—zero in children 10 or younger among hundreds of cases in China, and 0.2-0.4 percent in most healthy nongeriatric adults (and this is still before accounting for what is likely to be a high number of undetected asymptomatic cases)—we need to divert our focus away from worrying about preventing systemic spread among healthy people—which is likely either inevitable, or out of our control—and commit most if not all of our resources toward protecting those truly at risk of developing critical illness and even death: everyone over 70, and people who are already at higher risk from this kind of virus.
This still largely comes down to hygiene and isolation. But in particular, we need to focus on the right people and the right places. Nursing homes, not schools. Hospitals, not planes. We need to up the hygienic and isolation ante primarily around the subset of people who can’t simply contract SARS-CoV-2 and ride it out the way healthy people should be able to.
Curtis Kim of Vancouver, Canada, has created a website dedicated to tracking the statistics and information about COVID-19 in Canada and around the world. Here’s more about Kim and the website from a March 8, 2020 article by Megan Devlin for the Daily Hive,
Curtis Kim, who studied Computer Systems Technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology [BCIT], launched the site this week after getting frustrated he was spending so much time on various websites looking for daily coronavirus updates.
The site breaks down the number of cases in Canada, the number of deaths (zero in Canada so far), and the number of people who have recovered. Further down, it provides the same stats for global COVID-19 cases.
There’s also a colour-coded map showing where cases are distributed, and a feed of latest news articles about the virus. Kim also included information about symptoms and how to contact Canadian public health services.
Kim is looking for work and given what I’ve seen of his COVID-19 website, he should have no difficulty. Although I think it might be an idea for him to explain how the ‘lethality’ rate on his website has been obtained since Faust who seems to have more directly relevant experience suggests in his article that the numbers are highly problematic,
My name is Curtis, recently graduated from BCIT. I thought it would be a serious worldwide issue considering the speed of the spread of this virus ever since this COVID-19 occurred. I frequently googled to check up the current status by going through many websites and felt I was wasting time repeatedly searching with same keywords and for sure I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. That’s why I started creating this application. It provides up-to-date information on the COVID-19 broken by province and country around the world, key contact information, and latest news. I like to help people, and want them to understand this situation easily using this application. Hopefully this situation improves soon.
If you have any further inquries about the information on this web application, Please reach me at email@example.com
At about 11:45 am (PT) on March 9, 2020, Kim’s COVID-19 website was updated to include one death in Canada. As you might expect, ti was a resident in a long term care home. Wanyee Li’s March 9, 2020 article for The Star presents the news,
A resident at a long-term care home experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak in North Vancouver has died after contracting the virus, B.C. health officials confirmed Monday [March 9, 2020].
It is the first reported death in Canada linked to the virus.
The outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre has so far been linked to three community transmission cases of the virus.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed five new cases of COVID-19 in B.C. on Monday [March 9, 2020], putting the total in the province at 32.
The five new cases include one health-care worker, two people who are close contacts of an existing case, one person who recently returned from travel to Iran and another who was in Italy recently.
Officials are conducting an investigation into the three community transmission cases at the long-term care home to determine how a health care worker contracted the virus.
I looked up the population figures for the province of British Columbia (BC; Wikipedia entry for Demographics of British Columbia). As of the 2016 census, there were 4,648,055 people in the province. Assuming that population number holds, 67 cases in all of Canada (with 27 cases in BC) of COVID-19 don’t seem like big numbers.
We should definitely take precautions and be careful but there’s no need to panic.
There is no vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
Since the outbreak began in late 2019, researchers have been racing to learn more about SARS-CoV-2, which is a strain from a family of viruses known as coronavirus for their crown-like shape.
Northeastern Ûniversity] chemical engineer Thomas Webster, who specializes in developing nano-scale medicine and technology to treat diseases, is part of a contingency of scientists that are contributing ideas and technology to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
The idea of using nanoparticles, Webster says, is that the virus behind COVID-19 consists of a structure of a similar scale as his nanoparticles. At that scale, matter is ultra-small, about ten thousand times smaller than the width of a single strand of hair.
Webster is proposing particles of similar sizes that could attach to SARS-CoV-2 viruses, disrupting their structure with a combination of infrared light treatment. That structural change would then halt the ability of the virus to survive and reproduce in the body.
“You have to think in this size range,” says Webster, Art Zafiropoulo Chair of chemical engineering at Northeastern. “In the nanoscale size range, if you want to detect viruses, if you want to deactivate them.”
Finding and neutralizing viruses with nanomedicine is at the core of what Webster and other researchers call theranostics, which focuses on combining therapy and diagnosis. Using that approach, his lab has specialized in nanoparticles to fight the microbes that cause influenza and tuberculosis.
“It’s not just having one approach to detect whether you have a virus and another approach to use it as a therapy,” he says, “but having the same particle, the same approach, for both your detection and therapy.”
I wish Webster good luck. As for the rest us, let’s wash our hands and keep calm.
I was going to include event poster but I cannot figure out how to embed it here. For some reason the folks of the Vancouver Branch of Engineers and Geoscientists BC have made it difficult to do for someone as nontechnical as I am.
APGEBC stands for Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia and they are sometimes referred to as Engineers and Geoscientists BC (see Wikipedia entry). They (APGEBC) too have an event page listing the event and giving a little more information about why they’re hosting it and what you might find should you attend,
EG-Fest is a 1-day trade show style event organized by engineering and geoscience professionals and companies, and takes place during National Engineering and Geoscience Month. This is a great opportunity for people in our community to see first-hand how the many facets of engineering and geoscience affect our everyday lives.
The main goal of EG-Fest is to extend public knowledge and appreciation of engineering and geoscience. Each year, several thousand people pass through the Vancouver Public Library promenade to visit the many booths, demonstrations, and exhibits, as well as to speak with the representatives to learn about our profession.
This event is part of National Engineering and Geoscience Month (NEGM); an annual celebration of engineering and geoscience across Canada. The goal of this event is to promote the awareness of the engineering and geoscience professions, showcase career choices, and the many ways in which engineering and geoscience relate to our everyday life.
Everyone is welcome to attend and we encourage you to bring your friends and family. We hope to see you there.