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Boosting Natural Nitric Oxide Levels in the Lungs is a Possible Treatment for COVID-19, Study Finds


Researchers have found that an effective way to treat the coronavirus behind the 2003 SARS epidemic also works on the virus that is at the center of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The substance in question is nitric oxide, a compound with antiviral properties that the body itself produces naturally.

“As far as we know, nitric oxide is the only substance that has so far been shown to have a direct effect on SARS-CoV-2. [the virus behind the current pandemic]”Says Åke Lundkvist, a professor at Uppsala University who led the study, published in Redox Biology.

While vaccines are there to help prevent people from getting sick in the first place, there is still no effective cure for people who contract COVID-19.

The main emphasis in proven treatments has been to relieve symptoms. This can shorten the hospital stay and reduce mortality. However, to date, it has not been possible to prove that any of these treatments affected the actual virus behind the infection.

Nitric oxide is a compound that is made in the body. Its functions include acting as a hormone in the control of various organs. It regulates, for example, the tension in the blood vessels and the blood flow between and within the organs. In acute pulmonary failure, nitric oxide can be administered as an inhaled gas, in low concentrations, to increase the level of oxygen saturation in the blood.

During the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus epidemic of 2003, this therapy was successfully tested. A key reason for the successful results was that the inflammation in the patients’ lungs decreased. It is this property of nitric oxide – the protection it provides against infection, as it is both antibacterial and antiviral – that is now of interest to researchers.

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Their study is based on a discovery about the coronavirus that caused the first SARS epidemic. In 2003, nitric oxide released from S-Nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine (SNAP) was shown to have a distinct antiviral effect.

Researchers from Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institute now i have investigated how the new coronavirus involved in the current pandemic, SARS CoV-2, reacts to the compound. And SNAP also showed a clear antiviral effect on this virus, and an effect that became stronger as the dose was increased.

“The dose and timing of treatment probably play an important role in the outcome, and now they need to be explored as soon as possible,” says Åke Lundkvist.

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The research group now plans to continue investigating the antiviral effects of nitric oxide emitted in the form of gas. To do this, they will build a model in the laboratory to safely simulate a conceivable form of therapy for patients.

Source: Uppsala University

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