Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Cold Spell

Vertebrates adapted to life in cold water provide a new perspective for treating severely affected COVID-patients

14 January 2023

Cold Spell

Three years after the virus SARS-CoV-2 burst onto the scene, spreading like wildfire in a still-ongoing global pandemic, we are still learning how best to treat the disease known as COVID-19. Severely-affected individuals undergo long periods of sedation and artificial ventilation, and some are recovering consciousness unusually slowly. These individuals display reduced brain activity, in a stop-start pattern known as burst suppression, also seen in patients with heart conditions treated by lowering their body temperature. And in more surprising places... Extraordinarily resistant to oxygen-deprivation, painted turtles (Chrysemys picta, pictured) can survive months in ice-covered ponds with no oxygen, thanks to a suite of adaptations including reduced neuronal activity. COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe also experience low oxygen levels, and, combined with sedation, this could be triggering similar protective responses in humans. Inspired by processes in hibernating animals, this new perspective could suggest better ways to facilitate recovery after severe COVID-19.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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