Solving COVID: July 29, 2020

The Week Staff
Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock
Our 'Solving COVID' newsletter is a weekly roundup of the latest scientific advancements being made against the coronavirus pandemic. It tracks developments in testing, treating, and vaccinating. To receive the newsletter every week, please enter your email below:


Moderna starts dosing volunteers with COVID-19 vaccine candidate

Moderna announced on Monday that it has started dosing participants in the phase three trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. This is the first phase three clinical trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine to begin in the U.S. and is expected to include 30,000 participants. The first data from the study is expected to take months to arrive, The Associated Press writes, but Moderna has said its vaccine candidate induced a "robust" immune response in earlier trials, stoking optimism. The company recently received an additional $472 million in funding from the federal government, and should the vaccine prove to be safe and effective, the company says it "remains on track" to deliver 500 million doses each year, "and possibly up to 1 billion doses per year," starting in 2021. [Moderna, The Associated Press]


Smelling loss from COVID-19 isn't permanent, scientists conclude

One of the most distinctive symptoms of COVID-19 is anosmia, or the loss of smell and taste. That condition isn't permanent, scientists reported Friday in the journal Science Advances. The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 doesn't attack the cells that detect smell but rather the support cells for those olfactory neurons, says Sandeep Robert Datta, a Harvard Medical School neurobiologist who co-authored the study. "Once the infection clears, olfactory neurons don't appear to need to be replaced or rebuilt from scratch," Datta tells USA Today. "But we need more data and a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms to confirm this conclusion." Viral infections that attack the actual olfactory neurons can deprive people of their smelling capacity for months or longer. COVID-19 patients usually recover their sense of smell after several weeks. [Science Advances, USA Today]


Scientists are 3-D printing miniature human organs to test coronavirus drugs

Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are using 3-D printers to create tiny replicas of human organs that can be used to test and develop potential COVID-19 treatments. Thousands of these miniature organs — including lungs and colons, which are particularly affected by the coronavirus — can be printed in an hour, and are sent to a biosafety lab at George Mason University, where they're tested. The idea of using 3-D printed organs to test the efficacy of drugs predates the pandemic but could help expedite the experimental drug process. "The 3-D models can circumvent animal testing and make the pathway stronger from the lab to the clinic," said Akhilesh Gaharwar, who directs a lab in the biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University. [The New York Times]


Dogs might be able to sniff out coronavirus cases

Countries around the world have been training dogs to associate COVID-19 with a certain smell and point out the disease even if someone hasn't tested positive for it. Eight dogs from Germany's armed forces spent a week training to identify the smell of COVID-19 in a person's saliva in a study for the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover. They then were tasked with smelling the saliva of more than 1,000 sick and healthy people, and identified those with coronavirus infections 94 percent of the time. "We think that this works because the metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient are completely changed," and dogs can smell the difference, professor Maren von Koeckritz-Blickwede explains. Dogs in France similarly had a 95 percent success rate. And in Chile, police dogs are being trained to potentially sniff out coronavirus on people. All these efforts are happening with the hopes that dogs can be deployed in large crowds and track down infected people before they spread the virus too far. [Bloomberg]


New $5 million competition announced for developing rapid COVID-19 testing

The non-profit organization Xprize has unveiled a new $5 million competition to encourage the development of COVID-19 testing "that is low cost, easy to use, and fast-turnaround." Xprize and OpenCovidScreen hopes such testing solutions might help facilitate a safe return to school and work amid the pandemic, as other COVID-19 testing methods can take days to produce results. The submissions can be in one of four categories, including at-home and point-of-care testing, and entries will be judged on factors like innovation, performance, turnaround time, and cost. Five teams will ultimately be awarded $1 million each, and the maximum turnaround time for the tests is 12 hours, TechCrunch reports. "Xprize Rapid COVID Testing is inspiring the best entrepreneurial and scientific teams to come together to work towards rapid, affordable COVID-19 testing at scale, and ultimately, getting the world up and running again," Xprize CEO Anousheh Ansari said in a statement. [Xprize, TechCrunch]