Live COVID-19 Research Tracker

We at Next Gen Scientists Foundation are committed to bridge the gap between scientists and the general public. COVID-19 has brought a lot of activities around the world to a halt. Around the world, scientists are working day and night to develop diagnostic kits, vaccines and novel treatment strategies for COVID-19. Although the general public around the world are amply informed regarding the virus spread and quarantine measures, the level of scientific awareness leaves a lot to be desired. The stream of COVID-19 research that is being published in research journals are largely difficult for general public to understand, which leaves room for misinterpretation of research findings. In order to mitigate this, we have set up this page to connect researchers and the general public and information is released in a way that is easily understandable. This page will be continuously updated based on responses received from researchers about COVID-19 research. If you are a life science researcher yourself, participate in this initiative by choosing a research paper on COVID-19 that is not covered below. If you are someone from non scientific background you can add link of a research paper about COVID 19 that you want to be summarized about or ask questions about it. Make sure you bookmark this page and keep visiting every few days for updates.

  • Introduction:
  • Coronavirus takes the name from Latin word corona that means “crown”, due to the presence of spikes on the virus. This gives it the appearance of wearing a crown. Members of the Coronaviridae, circulate in human populations very often but usually cause mild symptoms. However, Middle East respiratory corona virus (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory symptom coronavirus (SARS-CoV) occurred through transmission from animals to humans. Severe acute respiratory corona virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative agent of COVID19 out-break, which was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei province, China in December 2019. It is very closely related to SARS-CoV. The rapid global spread of this highly contagious agent poses a health emergency across the world. Scientists are actively working towards finding a possible treatment, the progress of which is being updated below.
  • Author: Tanaya Roychowdhury, Graduate student at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, India
  • Why restriction of crowd movement is important to contain the outbreak?
  • Reference: http://doi.org/10.1126/science.abb3221
  • More than 2 hundred million people are forced to do “home-office” and even curfew has been imposed at several parts of the world to prevent spread of COVID-19. But why does it matter? Here, Li and colleagues established a mathematic model based on the observations within China to assess the full epidemic potential of COVID-19. They used the mobility data from 1 Feb to 12 Mar 2018 to represent the human movement that began on 10 Jan 2020 (Lunar New Year). In this period, there was around 3 billion reported trips within China. The COVID-19 transmission dynamics during the early stage of outbreak (10-23 Jan 2020) was simulated using a computational technique. After fitting the observed outbreaks of 375 cities and simulating the outbreaks, they estimated that the reproduction number (R0) of SARS-CoV-2 is 2.38, which means an infection can spread from one person to more than two new people. Importantly, only 14 % COVID-19 cases were documented before travel restrictions were imposed (independently corroborated by the infection rate among foreign nationals evacuated from China). It is this high ratio of undocumented cases, that ended up transmitting the virus to 80% documented cases during 10-23 Jan period. With the movement restriction and personal protective behavior, new infections could be confirmed much more rapidly- 6 days vs. 10 days before lock down. Therefore, effectively suppressing of the ability of the undocumented cases to spread the virus.
  • Summary by: Chung-Wen Lin, Postdoc at Helmholtz Center -Munich, Germany.
  • How does the nCoV identify its human host cell?
  • Reference: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6485/1444
  • In this paper, Yan and colleagues set out to characterize the structure of the human molecule that binds to the viral protein and grants entry into the cell. Cells in the lungs, kidneys and intestine have a protein called Angiotensin Converting Enzyme-2 (ACE2) on their surface. This protein is responsible for processing a hormone called Angiotensin, which enlarges blood vessels surrounding these cells. The coronavirus has proteins called Spike proteins (spiky things you see on coronavirus images) which bind to this ACE2 and gains entry into the cell. If we can block this event from happening, we could in principle stop viral entry and infection. Understanding how ACE2 and spike protein look together would therefore act as a guide in our pursuit for therapy. Research by Yan and colleagues does exactly this. We now have, for the first time, a picture of the full human ACE2 receptor and a portion of the n-CoV spike protein that is responsible for binding to this receptor. Besides, this work also identifies key differences in the modes of entry between the novel coronavirus and the virus that was responsible for the previous SARS outbreak. These differences could be responsible to the 10-15-fold higher affinity for the nCoV over the previous coronavirus (research from Wrapp and colleagues). Such details offer important insight into the mechanism by which nCoV infects a human cell opening up novel avenues for the development of better therapy.
  • Summary by: Manoj Kumar Rathinaswamy, Graduate Student at University of Victoria, Canada.
  • Scientists find a new hope for a COVID-19 treatment
  • Reference: https://www.cell.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0092-8674%2820%2930229-4
  • As mentioned above, the spike (S) protein of COVID19 aids its entry into human host. The S protein has two domains S1 and S2. Entry is dependent on the S1 domain of S protein that interacts with ACE2 present on surface of our lungs. It is like a lock and key interaction, where the S1 is the key and ACE2 is the lock. Now next step is to push the door open. For that the virus must fuse with lung cells. Our lung cells have several catalysts called enzymes which viruses use for their own benefit. Transmembrane protease serine 2 also termed as TMPRSS2 (a molecular protein scissor) is used by COVID19. TMPRSS2 cuts the S protein at the S1/S2 and S2 sites which then allows the fusion of the virus and lung cell. Interestingly, Camostat mesylate which inhibits TMPRSS2 has already been approved for human use in Japan but for some unrelated cause (Kawase et al., 2012; Zhou et al., 2015). Thus, in this study using a series of experiments Hoffman and colleagues have nicely demonstrated that COVID19 entry may be prevented by using inhibitors of TMPRSS2.
  • Summary by: Tanaya Roychowdhury, Graduate student at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, India
  • A promising antiviral that can prevent nCoV infection
  • Reference: https://www.pnas.org/content/117/12/6771
  • Wit and colleagues studied the effects of antiviral Remdesivir on coronavirus infection in monkeys. Remdesivir is a molecule that resembles adenosine, a building block in DNA/RNA and works by stopping the replication of viral genetic material. This drug has been shown to work against a range of viruses including Ebola virus, Coronavirus and the Nippah virus. In this study, the authors studied how monkeys responded to MERS Coronavirus (a close relative of nCoV) infection when the drug was given before or after the infection. They found that the drug was able to reduce symptoms in both cases. The effect was significant when the drug was given before infection. They then measured the amount of viral particles in the respiratory system and also checked for lesions in the lungs of all the infected monkeys. As before, when the drug was given before infection, it massively reduced viral load and lesions showing the exciting potential of this drug as a prophylactic (preventive medicine).
  • Summary by: Manoj Kumar Rathinaswamy, Graduate Student at University of Victoria, Canada.
  • Why an antimalarial drug is being considered for treating COVID-19 patients?
  • Reference: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41422-020-0282-0#ref-CR10
  • We have been hearing in the news that an antimalarial drug is being considered for treating COVID-19 patients around the world. Even the Indian government officially recommended doctors to use this drug for serious cases. So what is the source of these claims? In Feb this year, a research group based on Wuhan set out to test whether existing antiviral drugs could be used against COVID-19. They infected kidney cells of African green monkey with COVID-19 and checked what dose of existing drugs can stop the virus. This is a standard approach to test the efficiency of a drug at the earlier stage of drug development. Out of the 5 drugs they tested,  Remdesivir and Chloroquine were effective at low doses (See figure below). Hydroxychloroquine, a type of Chloroquine is the antimalarial drug that is coming around the news and this study is the reason why everyone is excited about this drug. The authors of this study propose that 500mg dose of Chloroquine taken orally should be sufficient to stop virus spread inside human body. There are a few limitations in this study we need to consider before widespread use of this drug. The most important being that, this study was done in cells. The findings need to be tested in the whole organism and clinical trials should be done on patients. This process is underway and lets hope for the best. Like any drug, Chloroquine has side effects and is quite toxic, that is why Hydroxychloroquine is being recommended. But wait, Why should a malarial drug work against COVID-19? Will Hydroxychloroquine be as effective as Chloroquine? I will cover this next here. stay tuned!
  • Summary by: Ramakrishnan Pandiarajan, Graduate student at Helmholtz Centre, Munich, Germany
  • How hydroxychloroquine works against COVID-19?
  • Reference: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41421-020-0156-0#Sec1
  • In this study, a group of researchers from China compared the effect of Chloroquine(CQ) and Hydroxychloroquine(HCQ) on African green monkey kidney cells when they were infected with COVID-19. First, they checked for the toxicity of HCQ and CQ and found that there was not a huge difference between them. Then, they checked the dose of drug required to stop the virus and found that CQ was effective in lower doses in comparison with HCQ. Based on these results they concluded that the HCQ has a lower potency in comparison with CQ. Further, the authors propose three mechanisms through which CQ and HCQ might protect cells from virus.
    • They prevent the addition of sugar groups to ACE2 (Lock) which prevents binding of viral spike protein(S-Key to enter inside our cells).
    • They alter the cell’s transport machinery that prevents the uptake and subsequent processing of the virus.
    • They can decrease the damage caused by the immune system while attacking the virus.
  • It is important to note that both CQ and HCQ are well distributed throughout the body and specifically accumulate quite well in the lungs, liver, kidney, spleen. The recommended safe dosage of HCQ should be sufficient to inhibit COVID-19. This study shows that CQ might be better than HCQ in inhibiting virus. But, independent animal studies (Dog,Mouse,Rat) have shown that HCQ is 40% less toxic than CQ. Besides HCQ is widely available in the market because of its utility in treating other diseases (Rheumatoid arthritis). All of this had made HCQ,  the most sought after drug for COVID-19.
  • Summary by: Ramakrishnan Pandiarajan, Graduate student at Helmholtz Centre, Munich, Germany
  • What does the pharmacy already have, that could treat COVID-19?
  • Reference: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.22.002386v3
  • In this paper, a whole lot of medicinal chemists got together and asked the question, do we have something already that can be potentially repurposed to treat COVID-19? For this they made human cells produce each individual component of the novel coronavirus. They then used this component as bait to fish for molecules in the human cell that interact with it. This way, they identified 332 human molecules that bind to the viral components. The authors then went through the list of drugs we already have and looked for those that hit these human molecules. They identified 69 FDA-approved drugs and a host of others that are still in or have not undergone clinical trials. Interestingly, this list includes medicines that are used in diabetes (Metformin), hypertension, bacterial infections (antibiotics), malaria (chloroquine), cancer and of course, antivirals. This paper thus opens up the possibility of the existence of potent weapons in our fight against COVID-19. However, a lot of these drugs have side effects and therefore need to be tested before definitive therapeutic claims can be made.
  • Summary by: Manoj Kumar Rathinaswamy, Graduate Student at University of Victoria, Canada.
  • How Llama (a type of camel) can save us from COVID-19?
  • Reference: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.26.010165v1
  • Antibodies are proteins produced by our immune system. They help our immune system to identify and kill pathogens and infected cells. Interestingly, antibodies produced in different organisms will work in our body as long as they have a code recognized by our immune system. This paper shows, antibodies generated in llamas (a camel like animal present in South America) can help humans to fight COVID19. Two antibodies have been identified by a team of scientists led by Dr. Bert Schepens and Dr. Xavier Saelens of the VIB life sciences Institute in Belgium and Dr. Jason McLellan of Texas University at Austin. These antibodies bind the spike (S) protein and prevent it from binding the receptor ACE2 in our lungs. One of the antibodies neutralized MERS while the other cleared SARS. The fact that COVID-19 is very similar to SARS makes this a very important finding! Fusing the SARS neutralizing llama antibody with human antibody created a hybrid one that neutralized COVID-19. It is important to note that human antibodies require combination of two proteins to function and therefore difficult to produce commercially in a different organism. But llama antibodies can be produced relatively easily by producing single protein. Therefore discovery of llama antibody capable of neutralizing COVID-19 is a significant step towards commercial production of antibody based therapy against it.
  • Summary by: Tanaya Roychowdhury, Graduate student at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, India
  • Scientists discover stone to defeat viral scissors of COVID-19
  • Reference: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2223-y
  • A team of scientists from China,USA and Australia have identified 6 lead compounds with potential activity against main protein scissor of COVID19. COVID-19 similar to other viruses produces several proteins at a stretch like a thread and later cuts them using protein scissors to smaller fragments like strings. These viral proteins can do their function properly only after they are cut from the thread. This strategy decreases the amount of information virus needs to store inside its compact size for infecting its host. One of the main scissor of COVID-19 is Mpro (Main Protease). This scissor is responsible for generation of the proteins necessary for viral replication. Scientists involved in this study first obtained the molecular photo of Mpro using a technique called X-ray crystallography. Then using this photo and computer-aided design they identified a new molecule N3, capable of preventing function of Mpro. This team of researchers also checked Mpro against more than 10,000 compounds (Existing drugs, pharmacologically active compounds and other drugs currently under clinical trials) and found that six compounds were capable of inhibiting it. Most notable being, Ebselen. Ebselen is currently being tested for its ability to treat Bipolar disorders and Hearing loss, and has been shown to have very low toxicity. Both Ebselen and N3 showed antiviral activity in this study when tested in African green monkey kidney cells. Since none of the human proteins is significantly similar to Mpro, drugs discovered from this study take us few steps closer towards targeted therapy against COVID-19.
  • Summary by: Tanaya Roychowdhury, Graduate student at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, India
  • Indian scientists use computer simulation models to guide pandemic management
  • Reference: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.05.20054775v1.full.pdf
  • As of now no vaccine has been approved for use against COVID19. Thus, to contain this pandemic non-medical measure in the form of lock down has been implemented to promote social distancing (SD). But the question remains would social distancing alone be useful to handle this lockdown? A team of scientists from Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Purulia Government Medical College and Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Kerala used a computational modelling using R language to develop SEIQHRF(Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Quarantined-Hospitalised-Recovered-Fatal) model. The simulation was run on Kasaragod, the most affected district of Kerala. The results of the study show that only SD would delay the appearance of peak prevalence of COVID19 cases. Increasing the number of beds would not reduce fatalities. But increasing detection rates by atleast five times could reduce the number of cases to half. Therefore, scaling up of detection along with SD and increase in number of hospitals, together will help in control of COVID19 in India.
  • Summary by: Tanaya Roychowdhury, Graduate student at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, India
  • The Sound of “Corona” music!
  • Reference: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/scientists-have-turned-structure-coronavirus-music
  • We all must have seen dozens of images of COVID19 but has anyone heard it? Scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now converted the entire structure of spike protein into a music! The different musical notes that one can hear indicate the various aspects of spike (S) protein that covers the virus. Proteins are made of amino acids. Using a process called sonification they have assigned each amino acid a musical note thus converting the entire sequence into a music. So why such an initiative? Scientists believe that this musical format would help scientists to find the specific sequences where a drug or antibody may bind! They believe that this method is more convenient and faster than conventional methods of molecular docking. For finding a match or complementarity between any two proteins we generally compare the amino acid sequences. Similarly, by comparing the musical sequence of the S protein with a large database of other sonified proteins, it might be possible to identify which proteins could bind to the S protein and prevent it from infecting our lung cells. It is really like music to the ears,Scroll down to listen!
  • Summary by: Tanaya Roychowdhury, Graduate student at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, India

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