Tag: 18/10/21

High-dose Heparin Reduces Mortality in Moderately-ill COVID Patients

SARS-CoV-2 viruses (yellow) infecting a human cell. Credit: NIH

A high dose of heparin, an inexpensive and globally available medication, reduces mortality risk in hospitalised, moderately-ill COVID patients, suggests a new study led by St. Michael’s Hospital.

Appearing in the BMJ, the RAPID Trial compared a high, therapeutic dose of heparin to a prophylactic low dose for patients with moderate COVID and elevated d-dimer levels admitted to hospitals. D-dimers are protein fragments produced when a blood clot gets dissolved; higher levels indicate increased clotting risks.

The researchers studied 465 patients in hospitals around the world and found that while the therapeutic dose of heparin was not associated with a significant reduction in the study’s primary outcome, a composite of death, the need for mechanical ventilation or admission to intensive care, the dosing of heparin did reduce all-cause death in moderately-ill COVID patients admitted to hospital by 78%.

“Our study confirms therapeutic heparin is beneficial in patients who are on the ward with COVID, but other studies suggest it could be harmful for patients who are in critical care,” said Dr. Peter Jüni, Director of the Applied Health Research Centre at St. Michael’s and co-lead of the study.

Therapeutic doses of heparin are used for deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary emboli, whereas prophylactic, or lower, doses are used for patients admitted to Internal Medicine wards to prevent blood clotting while they are in hospital.

Several trials have investigated using blood thinners in COVID patients due to heightened inflammation and clotting in blood vessels caused by the virus. Dr. Michelle Sholzberg, Head of the Division of Hematology-Oncology and Director of the Coagulation Lab at St. Michael’s, and co-lead on the study, hopes this research contributes to a change in treatment guidelines for COVID patients.

“This is a once-in-a-million opportunity – heparin is inexpensive, globally available, and exists in every single hospital pharmacy cabinet right now,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to rapidly repurpose a drug available around the world.”

In particular, she said, the treatment could make a difference in areas where vaccine availability or coverage continues to be limited. Heparin is included in the WHO’s list of essential medicines.

The researchers hope to learn more from the data collected by analysing it further to address new questions, and are also considering revisiting patient outcomes to understand whether these therapies reduce the odds of long COVID.

Source: Unity Health

How Antibody Treatment for MIS-C Works

Source: NCI on Unsplash

The depletion of neutrophils could be how intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) is able to treat multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

MIS-C is a rare condition that usually affects school-age children who initially had only mild COVID symptoms or no symptoms at all. The researchers also found that IVIG works in a similar manner for treating Kawasaki disease, another rare inflammatory condition that affects children and shares symptoms with MIS-C. 

MIS-C is marked by severe inflammation of two or more parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes and gastrointestinal organs. Its symptoms overlap with Kawasaki disease, and treatments for MIS-C are partly guided by what is known about the treatment of Kawasaki disease. IVIG, which is made up of antibodies purified from blood products, is a common and effective treatment for heart complications caused by Kawasaki disease. For MIS-C patients, however, IVIG alone does not always resolve symptoms, and healthcare providers may need to prescribe additional anti-inflammatory drugs.

In order to better understand how IVIG works and to improve treatments for children with MIS-C, researchers profiled immune cells from patients with MIS-C or Kawasaki disease. The team sampled cells before treatment began as well as 2 to 6 weeks after patients received IVIG, and found that neutrophils from these patients were highly activated and a major source of interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β), a driver of inflammation. After IVIG treatment, these activated neutrophils were significantly depleted in patients with MIS-C or Kawasaki disease.

The study authors believe their findings are the first to explain why IVIG is effective for both conditions. More work is needed however to understand how IVIG causes cell death in these activated neutrophils and why certain patients with MIS-C require additional anti-inflammatory treatments.

The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Source: National Institutes of Health

Depression Genes Result in More Physical Symptoms

Source: Andrew Neel on Unsplash

People who have a higher genetic risk of clinical depression are more likely to experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, fatigue and migraine, researchers have found.

Depression is a serious disorder with lifetime risks of poor health, according to Dr Enda Byrne from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

“A large proportion of people with clinically-diagnosed depression present initially to doctors with physical symptoms that cause distress and can severely impact on people’s quality of life,” Dr Byrne said.

“Our research aimed to better understand the biological basis of depression and found that assessing a broad range of symptoms was important.

“Ultimately, our research aimed to better understand the genetic risks and generate more accurate risk scores for use in research and healthcare.”

Despite recent breakthroughs, Dr Byrne said it was difficult to find more genetic risk factors because of the range of patient ages, their symptoms, responses to treatment and additional mental and physical disorders.

“Previous genetic studies have included participants who report having seen a doctor for worries or tension – but who may not meet the ‘official’ criteria for a diagnosis of depression,” Dr Byrne said

Published in JAMA Psychiatry, the study analysed data from more than 15 000 volunteers who provided details of their mental health history, depression symptoms and a DNA sample using a saliva kit.

“We wanted to see how genetic risk factors based on clinical definitions of depression differed – from those based on a single question to those based on a doctor’s consultation about mental health problems,” Dr Byrne said.

The study found that participants with higher genetic risk for clinical depression are more likely to experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, fatigue and migraine.

 “It is also linked to higher rates of somatic symptoms – that is, physical symptoms that cause distress and can severely impact on people’s quality of life,” Dr Byrne said.

“Our results highlight the need for larger studies investigating the broad range of symptoms experienced by people with depression.”

Source: University of Queensland

Nearly 4 in 10 Swedish COVID Patients in ICUs had Obesity

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People with obesity were overrepresented among adults in Sweden in intensive care for COVID during the first wave of the pandemic, with over twice the proportion as compared to the general population. 

The study, appearing in PLOS One, used  the Swedish Intensive Care Registry (SIR) tp the researchers identified all patients with COVID who were admitted to ICUs in Sweden during the initial wave of the pandemic, in spring and summer 2020. Where height and weight data were missing from SIR, this was supplemented directly from the ICUs and also through the Nationwide Passport Register.

Though people with obesity were identified early on as a risk group that was affected especially severely by COVID, this study contributes to a new, more detailed picture.

A total of 1649 individuals with COVID from ICUs around Sweden were included. All the participants were aged 18 and over; three-quarters were men; and pregnant women were excluded.

The results show that patients with obesity (BMI of 30 kg/m2 or more) were overrepresented among those with COVID receiving intensive care in Sweden, which was 39.4 %, compared to 16% in the general population .

A high BMI increased the risk of both serious illness with long stays in intensive care and of death. A link was found between BMI over 30 and a 50% increase in mortality risk, compared with the normal-weight group. Among those who survived, a BMI over 35 was associated with a more than doubled risk of intensive care for over 14 days. These analyses have been adjusted for age, gender, comorbidity, and state of health at ICU arrival.

“For individuals with COVID who are in intensive care, obesity means an increased risk of death, and among those who survive, obesity boosts the risk of intensive care lasting more than 14 days,” explained first author Lovisa Sjögren, researcher at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg. “Based on our results, obesity should be included as an important risk factor in COVID. Patients with obesity who suffer from COVID should be monitored closely.”

The study is based on the Swedish Intensive Care Register, and Dr Sjögren points out that high-quality registers are a basic precondition for studies of this type to be feasible.

Senior author Jenny M Kindblom, Associate Professor at University of Gothenburg added: “Some international studies have shown a connection between high BMI and the risk of becoming severely ill with COVID. We can now show this in a Swedish context, and with the advantage of having a fully up-to-date BMI value for every patient,” said.

At an early stage during the pandemic, the researchers who conducted the study were in touch with HOBS, a Swedish patient organisation for people living with overweight and obesity. Many members were concerned that a high BMI would elevate the risk of serious illness in COVID.

“At the time, there were no publications in the field, and the study was initiated to enable us to answer patients’ questions. We now hope as many people as possible will take the opportunity to get vaccinated, and that health services include BMI – as a risk factor and perhaps choose to exercise special vigilance in monitoring patients with obesity who are suffering from COVID,” said Prof Kindblom.

Source: University of Gothenburg

Surveys Reveals Mistrust over Facial Recognition Tech in Healthcare

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Most people have deep reservations about the use of facial recognition technologies in healthcare settings, a survey has found.

Facial recognition technologies – often used to unlock a phone or in airport security – is becoming increasingly common in everyday life, but how do people feel about this?

To answer this, researchers surveyed more than 4000 US adults and found that a significant proportion of respondents considered the use of facial image data in healthcare across eight varying scenarios as unacceptable (15–25%). Taken with those that responded as unsure of whether the uses were acceptable, roughly 30–50% of respondents indicated some degree of concern for uses of facial recognition technologies in healthcare scenarios. In some cases, using facial image data  – such as to avoid medical errors, for diagnosis and screening, or for security – was acceptable to the majority. However over half of respondents did not accept or were uncertain about healthcare providers using this data to monitor patients’ emotions or symptoms, or for health research. 

In the biomedical research setting, most respondents were equally concerned over use of medical records, DNA data and facial image data in a study.

While there was a wide range of demographics among respondents, their perspectives on these issues did not differ. 

“Our results show that a large segment of the public perceives a potential privacy threat when it comes to using facial image data in healthcare,” said lead author Sara Katsanis, Research Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “To ensure public trust, we need to consider greater protections for personal information in healthcare settings, whether it relates to medical records, DNA data, or facial images. As facial recognition technologies become more common, we need to be prepared to explain how patient and participant data will be kept confidential and secure.”

Senior author Jennifer K Wagner, Assistant Professor in Penn State’s School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs adds: “Our study offers an important opportunity for those pursuing possible use of facial analytics in healthcare settings and biomedical research to think about human-centeredness in a more meaningful way. The research that we are doing hopefully will help decision-makers find ways to facilitate biomedical innovation in a thoughtful, responsible way that does not undermine public trust.”  

The research team hopes to conduct further research to understand the nuances where public trust is lacking. The findings were published in PLOS One.

Source: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

Topical Medication Trumps Opioids for Knee Osteoarthritis Pain

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

In treating knee osteoarthritis pain, topical medication for pain relief is safer and more effective than opioids, according to a new meta-analysis.

The paper, which appears in BMJ, compared the benefits and harms of different doses of commonly prescribed treatments for hip and knee osteoarthritis, including oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), topical NSAIDs, opioids, and acetaminophen (Tylenol). The meta-analysis looked at 192 large, randomised clinical trials with a total of over 102 000 participants.

Researchers found, regardless of preparation or dose, opioids did not significantly relieve pain for osteoarthritis patients. They also found that topical Diclofenac – known to consumers as Voltaren – is effective in treating knee osteoarthritis.

The topical treatment, which can be purchased over-the-counter, is generally safer than oral NSAIDs and should be considered as first-line pharmacological treatment for knee osteoarthritis, the study authors say. Osteoarthritis affects millions of Canadians.

Study lead author, Dr. Bruno R. da Costa, Acting Director of the Applied Health Research Centre (AHRC) at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, stated that recent clinical practice guidelines recommend the lowest possible dose to minimise the risk of adverse events.

However, he said, “it is currently unclear what the lowest but still effective doses of these drugs are. Osteoarthritis affects more than 4.6 million people in Canada. Our findings allow physicians, patients, or their caregivers to have a better understanding of which of these treatments at their lowest doses would be safest while still being effective.”

“Although there is robust evidence about the harmful effects of opioids, and international concerns around the opioid epidemic, opioids remain among the most prescribed drugs for osteoarthritis pain in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.”

Dr da Costa said that none of the opioid interventions, regardless of dose, seemed to have a clinically relevant effect on pain or physical function. Opioids should therefore only play a secondary role in osteoarthritis treatment, when conventional treatment is exhausted.

What was most surprising was that maximum recommended daily doses of opioids do not have an effect in osteoarthritis pain that patients would consider relevant. They did not see an association between higher opioid doses and greater pain relief.

Lower doses of topical diclofenac (Voltaren) also have a similar beneficial effect to the most effective oral NSAIDs in knee osteoarthritis – an important finding as some patients with gastrointestinal complaints and other comorbidities. Adverse events of topical NSAIDs are minimal. The topical diclofenac trials had only knee osteoarthritis, and in hip osteoarthritis the depth is likely too great for any benefit.

The next step is to better understand the safety of oral NSAIDs in patients with comorbidities, and long-term use on an as-needed-basis with varying versus fixed daily doses. It would also be useful to identify if there are patients who have exhausted treatment options but could benefit from opioids or acetaminophen.

Source: Unity Health