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AUG 21, 2020 • 15 min read
It has been an unsettling past few months as the world has been fighting COVID-19.
Over the course of the pandemic we have luckily learned more and more about the effects of the virus, potential treatments and its prevention. This has been thanks in-part by the work of some of the world’s top universities. Today, we at Crimson want to give our thanks and honour some of these great institutions and their potentially life-saving studies. Our list features studies at some great US universities such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT, as well as Oxford in the UK. Check it out below!
What started out as an informal study by a Duke professor helping locals buy effective masks,ballooned into one of the most comprehensive and groundbreaking studies on facemask effectiveness during the pandemic. Using a laser, a mobile phone and the transmission of respiratory droplets during regular speech, the Duke team tested the scattering of respiratory droplets through 14 common kinds of masks as a measure of their effectiveness.
The team found that many of the masks were very effective at containing the respiratory droplets, including the professionally fitted N95 masks for healthcare workers, three-layered surgical masks, and polypropylene-cotton masks that people can make at home. Unfortunately, the researchers also discovered that some masks are quite literally useless, including bandanas and neck gaiters.
While the study never attempted to advocate for using any particular variety of masks, conceding that many kinds are rather effective, the overarching point was that you’re better off wearing a real mask than something that makes you look like a cowboy.
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The Stanford School of Medicine has completed extensive research to investigate the kinds of factors that increase chances of COVID-19 infection and death.
Amongst other things, one of the factors may be smoking and vaping. The Stanford team has found that in the US, young people who vaped were five times more likely to be infected than those who did not use e-cigarettes. Further, those who had used both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
The team hypothesised that the damage vaping and smoking does to the lungs, potentially removes young people’s more robust resistance to the virus and its effects, rendering them equally as vulnerable as the older population.
Stanford hopes to be able to use this research to educate young people about the risks of vaping and the effects on their lungs. They also want the research to prompt the FDA to tighten regulations on e-cigarette products during the pandemic.
MIT engineers have recently designed a new kind of highly effective reusable silicone face mask that they hope can help turn the tide for healthcare workers fighting the pandemic.
The masks utilise the same filters as the extremely effective N95 surgical masks, but unlike N95 masks, these are reusable if sterilised daily. Further, the sterilisation process is very simple such that any healthcare worker or member of the public could sterilise their mask daily at home. It also requires much less high-grade N95 material than a traditional N95 mask, meaning that it can be more easily produced.
MIT hopes that these masks can be used to ease the huge demand for top-performing masks needed to keep healthcare workers fighting the pandemic safe, perhaps being especially useful in some areas and countries where hospitals face the possibility of mask shortages. The MIT team is now working on new, improved prototypes for the mask based on feedback from workers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. They are also seeking approval from the FDA to produce the masks on a mass scale.
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Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health have recently developed a rapid saliva-based laboratory diagnostic test for COVID-19.
The SalivaDirect method developed by Yale seems to have several key advantages over the traditional swab tests. For one, saliva collection is far less invasive than traditional nasopharyngeal swabbing, which can scare people off getting tested. It is also much cheaper, with the reagents needed for the test far less expensive than those needed for the traditional test.
You may have seen SalivaDirect recently in sporting headlines, with NBA players in the Florida NBA bubble serving as some of the first clinical trial subjects for the new form of testing. These initial clinical trials have shown that despite the higher speed, lower cost and inexpensiveness, the results of the tests almost universally match traditional tests in terms of accuracy.
The hope is that these tests can be used to encourage more and more people to get tested for the virus, especially asymptomatic individuals might not suspect they are carrying it. In the past few days the FDA have given Yale’s SalivaDirect test emergency use authorisation for laboratories, hoping to scale it up quickly for use across the nation.
There is a lot of speculation and confusion about the diverse array of potential symptoms of COVID-19 - each patient seems to differ in their symptoms, and some patients seem to exhibit no visible effects at all. However, what seems to be one of the more consistently reported early symptoms of COVID-19 seems to be loss of smell, or anosmia.
In a recent study, Harvard Medical School has identified the olfactory cell types in the upper nasal cavity most vulnerable to infection by SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, they found that these seem to be some of the first kinds of cells in the body to be affected once COVID-19 is contracted, and may be the key to tracking the initial spread of the virus through the body. Harvard Medical School is now exploring how these findings could lead to improved smell-based diagnostics for the disease.
The research is also good news for those who have contracted the disease, as they have found that the disease does not cause permanent damage to olfactory cells. In other words, if you have had COVID-19 and experienced a loss of smell, you will yet again be able to smell delicious foods and aromas again very soon.
Did you know Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League Universities? Our expert teams of tutors, mentors and strategists help students build a holistic application strategy, craft that resonate above the competition, boost their extracurricular profile, and much more. Find out more about our Admission Support service.
Partnering with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, Oxford University has potentially helped develop an effective vaccine for COVID-19!
The vaccine is what is known as a viral vector vaccine, a product of the most innovative new developments in immunology. In-effect, what Oxford researchers have been able to do is construct a vaccine that trains the body to respond to COVID-19 virus cells using cells from a similarly structured, but harmless virus called ChAdOx1 (hence the vaccine’s name). These cells also are not able to replicate or cause an ongoing infection, meaning that it is very safe to get injected with this vaccine.
The preliminary data has shown that the vaccination is safe and induces a strong antibody response in all vaccinated volunteers within 28 days. In other words, receiving the vaccine produces a very similar immunity response to individuals who have recovered from COVID-19, meaning that the vaccine is effective.
Before the vaccine can be rolled out, the final stage of clinical trials must be completed by Oxford with thousands more test subjects. In reality, this period should last many months, in order to test whether the vaccine is effective in the long-run, as well as whether any booster shots would be required. However, AstraZeneca has already begun tentatively preparing for a manufacturing programme for the vaccine, potentially having hundreds of millions of doses ready by the end of 2020.
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