Why a drug used to treat severe COVID-19 may only benefit men

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In a new study from the University of Calgary, researchers found how dexamethasone, the main treatment for severe COVID-19 lung infections, alters how immune cells work, which may help male patients, but has little to no benefit for females.

They found that the males derived benefit from the steroids, and the females, at both the cellular level and at the population level, received a limited benefit.

At the onset of the pandemic, hospitals’ treatments of the severely ill were not yet informed by research into how effective the drugs were under COVID-19 conditions.

Steroids were the first identified drugs with proven benefits, but they were only moderately successful at reducing deaths, and exactly what they did was not understood.

In the study, the team accessed the provincial eCRITICAL database of all ICU admissions during the pandemic.

They discovered that the introduction of dexamethasone therapy in Alberta reduced the number of males dying but had no effect on the female population.

Blood was collected from both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients who were admitted to Calgary ICUs in severe respiratory distress.

In most viral infections, proteins called interferons work to clear the virus quickly. But with COVID-19, rather than working fast, the interferon response trickles along, which actually fuels the fire of inflammation, and then people get worse organ damage.

The team found that specifically in males, there was an exaggerated neutrophil interferon response, that is strongly restrained when a patient is given dexamethasone.

But with females, relative to males, their neutrophil interferon response was much more tempered, so dexamethasone had little effect.

After identifying the reasons why there’s a sex bias in the way dexamethasone works, the team believes that the way forward is for researchers to figure out how to make therapies that benefit more people.

If you care about COVID, please see recent studies about scientists develop ‘warm vaccine’ to fight all COVID-19 variants and results showing that this drug can block multiple COVID-19 variants.

For more information about COVID vaccines and wellness, please see recent studies about COVID vaccines: some fully vaccinated people will still get infected – here’s why and results showing that many Americans take immune-weakening drugs that may lower COVID vaccine response.

The study is published in Nature Medicine. One author of the study is Dr. Jeff Biernaskie.

Copyright © 2021 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.