New drug could protect lungs from COVID-19, flu viruses

Credit: North Carolina State University

In a study from North Carolina State University, scientists have developed an inhalable powder that could protect lungs and airways from viral invasion by reinforcing the body’s own mucosal layer.

The powder, called Spherical Hydrogel Inhalation for Enhanced Lung Defense, or SHIELD, reduced infection in both mouse and non-human primate models over a 24-hour period and can be taken repeatedly without affecting normal lung function.

The idea behind this work is simple—viruses have to penetrate the mucus in order to reach and infect the cells, so we’ve created an inhalable bioadhesive that combines with your own mucus to prevent viruses from getting to your lung cells

The inhalable powder microparticles are composed of gelatin and poly(acrylic acid) grafted with a non-toxic ester.

When introduced to a moist environment—such as the respiratory tract and lungs—the microparticles swell and adhere to the mucosal layer, increasing the “stickiness” of the mucus.

The effects are most potent during the first eight hours after inhalation. SHIELD biodegrades over a 48-hour period, and is completely cleared from the body.

In a mouse model, the team found SHIELD blocked SARS-CoV-2 pseudovirus particles with 75% efficiency four hours after inhalation, which fell to 18% after 24 hours.

The researchers found similar results when testing against pneumonia and H1N1 viruses.

In a non-human primate model of both the original and delta SARS-CoV-2 variants, SHIELD-treated subjects had reduced viral loads—from 50 to 300-fold less than control subjects—and none of the symptoms commonly associated with infection in primates, such as lung inflammation or fibrosis.

Since primates do not exhibit the same symptoms of infection as humans, viral load is the standard marker used to determine exposure.

The researchers suggest SHIELD is easier and safer to use than other physical barriers or anti-virus chemicals

It works like an ‘invisible mask’ for people in situations where masking is difficult, for example during heavy exercise, while eating or drinking, or in close social interactions.

People can also use SHIELD on top of physical masking to have better protection.

If you care about health, please read studies about the cause of wheezing in the lungs, and scientists find new drug to treat both COVID-19 and cancer.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about evidence on rare blood clots after COVID-19 vaccination, and results showing new drug combo could improve survival in lung cancer.

The study was conducted by Ke Cheng et al and published in Nature Materials.

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