COVID-19: Nitric oxide shows promise as antiviral treatment
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While the world awaits a clinically proven, widely available vaccine, there is an urgent need for more effective treatments for severe COVID-19 infections.
Currently, the only approved antiviral treatment for the infection is remdesivir, which can shorten recovery time for some people hospitalized with COVID-19.
A recent review of the research concludes that nitric oxide, a cell signaling molecule produced naturally by the body, could be a potential treatment for the new coronavirus.
The molecule has anti-inflammatory effects and is a vasodilator, meaning it dilates blood vessels to increase blood flow. It also has antiviral properties.
Previous studies show that nitric oxide is effective against the herpes virus, coxsackievirus, and hantavirus.
According to a 2005 in vitro study involving cell cultures grown in the lab, it also inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV. Closely related to SARS-CoV-2, this coronavirus caused the global outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003.
A small clinical study suggests that inhaled nitric oxide at low concentrations not only works as a vasodilator for SARS patients — improving oxygenation of their blood — but also as an antiviral agent.
An in vitro study that appears in the journal Redox Biology now provides the first direct evidence that nitric oxide also inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2.
Scientists at the Zoonosis Science Center at Uppsala University in Sweden conducted the research.
“Until we get a vaccine that works, our hope is that inhalation of [nitric oxide] might be an effective form of treatment,” says the senior author, Åke Lundkvist. “The dosage and timing of starting treatment probably play an important part in the outcome, and now need to be explored as soon as possible.”