Huntsville researchers look for ways to treat COVID-19


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – We’re just a couple months shy of a year since COVID-19 surfaced here in Alabama.

HudsonAlpha scientist Neil Lamb said now that we have vaccines on the market, he’s been focusing more on gathering a host of tools to fight the virus outside the shots in the arm.

“We would really like to be able to have a whole set of different medications,” he said. “Some antivirals I can give you early in infection kind of like we do with Tamiflu that can shorten the duration of the viral illness. We’d like some additional medications that we can give patients that develop pneumonia or that go into an overactive immune response so that we can offer multiple treatment possibilities really throughout the course of the illness.”

Lamb said he believes, ultimately, the toolkit could reduce the number of people who go from being infected with COVID-19 to hospitalized with the virus.

Mutations and variants of the SARS CO-V-2 virus are new concerns. Lamb said current vaccines should hold up against small changes within the virus’ makeup.

“One variant, a handful of variants, shouldn’t be enough to cause you not to recognize it,” he said.

The scientist said variants would only become a problem if the shape of the spike protein, which latches onto otherwise healthy cells, is altered in a major way. So far research doesn’t show that to be the case.

Lamb wants to remind people that even the brightest scientists are still learning about the virus every day.

“We tend to think of science as facts in a textbook that are already settled, that everybody knows that are dry and dusty,” he said. “This pandemic has put front and center that the process of scientific discovery is dynamic and it is messy and people don’t always agree. We as a species don’t like nuance, we want yes or no.”

Lamb said he and his fellow researchers are working on answers and his focus has remained on finding efficient ways to communicate research developments and provide that news to the public.

In terms of vaccine efficacy, especially as Alabama is preparing to vaccinate its second phase of older citizens, Lamb said the CDC reports the vaccine may be less effective in people who are seriously immunocompromised. Like someone battling cancer, lupus, or HIV.

However, this is something that is actively being studied.

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