HIV cure, antivenom efficacy & other advancements

HIV cure, antivenom efficacy and other scientific advancements

In March, Bengaluru saw the publication of long-standing breakthroughs in quantum technologies, biological studies and even infectious disease of the non-novel coronavirus variety

So far as the spectacled cobra was concerned, researchers found that while commercial antivenom worked as expected in Tamil Nadu. Credit: iStock Photo

For much of last year, the pandemic and lockdown conditions barred researchers from their labs and badly disrupted ongoing research and development. However, as Covid-19 numbers fell, a deluge of papers began to be published on innovations which had been building in silence.

This was especially true of Bengaluru in March, which saw the publication of long-standing breakthroughs in quantum technologies, biological studies and even infectious disease of the non-novel coronavirus variety. But that is not to say that advances to fight Covid-19 had tapered off.

Scientists revealed the development of AI to read sonograms of Covid-19 patients to determine the severity of infection and face masks that not only prevented the virus from seeping through the cloth but also neutralised it. 

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) also refined a mathematical model used since last year to project the trajectory of the pandemic, to map the direction of the second surge.

Developed by scientists at IISc’s Department of Computational and Data Sciences (CDS), the model was tweaked to project when the outbreak would peak in each of the 30 districts in Karnataka.

“The idea is to give the public a projection about when the outbreak will start to decline, based on how well Covid appropriate behaviours are followed,” explained Associate Professor Shashikumar Ganesan, Chairman of the department of Computational and Data Sciences (CDS) who helped build the model.

Virus lineages

Meantime, scientists at Nimhans found 34 different lineages of original Sars-CoV-2 virus in Bengaluru (up from the seven found in May 2020). A majority of viruses in the city, it turns out, come from a lineage characterised by different mutations, which allow the virus to evade a response from the human immune system. 

Two separate teams of scientists, one working on the development of a new nano-enzyme which has the ability to reduce oxidative stress in living organisms, and the other, which was looking for ways to prevent the replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes AIDS, found a common link between their independent projects.

There is currently no way to completely eliminate HIV from a patient’s body. 

Associate Professor Amit Singh of the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology and Centre for Infectious Diseases Research, IISc who led the study, explained that when anti-HIV drugs are normally used, the virus hides inside the host’s immune cells in a “latent” state.

While the drugs are effective if used regularly (AIDS patients need to take them lifelong), researchers said that if a patient misses weekly doses, if the immune system is compromised or if transient viremia occurs, HIV reactivates itself — even if the patient is in therapy.

This happens when levels of toxic molecules such as hydrogen peroxide increase in the host’s cells, he added, pointing to a connection between oxidative stress and virus reactivation. Researchers realised that if they could keep the oxidative stress low, they could lock the virus in stasis. They are now moving to conduct long-term studies.

Antivenom

Another innovation involved city scientists finding that regional differences in snake venom within India’s “big four” snakes (the spectacled cobra, the saw-scaled viper, the common krait and the Russell’s viper) which meant that existing antivenom was less than efficacious in some regions.

So far as the spectacled cobra was concerned, researchers found that while commercial antivenom worked as expected in Tamil Nadu and better than expected in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, its efficacy fell significantly in West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. The antivenom failed to completely prevent venom-induced lethality by the desert population of spectacled cobras found in Rajasthan. In the case of the Russell’s viper, efficacy of antivenom was substandard in only Punjab.

Assistant Professor Kartik Sunagar of IISc’s Centre for Ecological Studies, who is the corresponding author of the study, said that the finding “emphasises the need for cost-effective, dose-efficacious and pan-India efficacious solutions to safeguard the lives, limbs and livelihoods of India’s snakebite victims.”

Shock wave dynamics 

Finally, not all of the research was rooted in terra ferma. Researchers at IISc found that the different air flow and shock wave patterns created by a cone set on a cylinder interacted to affect the unsteady shock-wave dynamics.

For certain combinations of the parameters, the air flow and shock waves were highly disturbed, resulting in “pulsations,” which have much higher amplitude of unsteadiness than the relatively low-amplitude ‘oscillations’ which occur at other combinations. 

The findings are relevant to aspects of design of rockets and high-speed aircraft.

(Breaking ground offers a bird’s-eye view of recent scientific research and advancements taking place in our labs and on the field)