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'Weak spot' in virus responsible for COVID-19 could mean new treatments, UBC researchers say – The Globe and Mail

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Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered what they are calling a “weak spot” in the virus that causes COVID-19, paving the way for potential new treatments effective against all strains.

A study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications says the “key vulnerability” is found in all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“We’re always looking for, well, is there a chink in the armour? Is there a spot that is not changing so much, that we can direct antibodies to that spot?” the study’s senior author, Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, said in an interview.

“That is the value of the new finding, that it tells us where to focus our attention.”

Exploiting that weakness could lead to new ways of fighting the illness that has killed almost 6.5 million people across the globe since it was identified more than two years ago, the study says.

Subramaniam, a professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine, said the team had studied the virus at an atomic level to find the weak spot and identify an antibody fragment that can attach to it across the virus’s many mutations, including the surging Omicron subvariants.

Antibodies counteract viruses by attaching like a key in a lock. They are naturally produced by the body to fight infection, but can also be made in a laboratory and administered to patients as a treatment, becoming less effective over time as viruses mutate.

But Subramaniam said the weak spot his team has identified is constant in all seven major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, meaning one antibody could act as a “master key” capable of overcoming extensive mutations.

The weak spot and master key “unlock a whole new realm of treatment possibilities,” which have the potential to be effective against current or future variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, he said in a statement.

The researchers began with the knowledge that the immune system typically responds to what it sees on the surface of the virus, or the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, he said. All viruses mutate and the concern with each new variant of COVID-19 has been whether the immune system will be able to recognize the mutated form.

“The existence of a large number of mutations made it a much more effective escape artist from our immune system,” he said.

The weak spot is located on the spike protein, he said. The antibody fragment neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 by attaching to the spike protein and blocking the virus from entering human cells, he said.

“We used very advanced imaging tools to literally zero in and cast a spotlight on the interaction of the spike protein with antibodies,” he said.

The special thing about the identified antibody fragment is that it attaches next to the site where the spike protein binds with human cells instead of directly on it, he said.

“It actually puts out a couple of fingers that still block the binding,” he said. “So it achieves this effect by sitting next door.”

In some ways, it’s less like locking the door than stretching an arm out to block entry, he said.

“It’s an interesting physical block that sits close by, but not exactly at that site. And that may well be why [the site] has not mutated so much over time.”

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Feds lift border vaccine requirements, mandatory masks on planes and trains

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OTTAWA — Federal ministers say all COVID-19 border restrictions will be removed as of Saturday, including mandatory vaccination, testing and quarantine of international travellers, as well as the requirement for masks on planes and trains.

The cabinet order maintaining COVID-19 border measures will not be renewed when it expires on Sept. 30.

But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is once again warning that pandemic restrictions could be reinstated if they are needed.

“We have learned over the last (two-and-a-half) years the type of measures that can work,” Duclos said Monday.

“We will therefore leave open all possible options when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Canadians.”

The changes mean foreign nationals will no longer require an approved series of vaccinations to enter the country.

In addition, Canada-bound travellers will no longer be subject to random COVID-19 tests, and unvaccinated Canadians will not need to isolate when they return to the country.

Cruise passengers will not have to do pre-board tests or prove they have been vaccinated.

And people who enter the country after Saturday will not need to monitor and report if they develop signs or symptoms of COVID-19.

The five federal ministers making the announcement said the changes are informed by science and epidemiology, adding that modelling indicates the peak of the latest wave of the disease has “largely passed.”

But they did face questions about whether the move is at least partially politically motivated as the Liberals contend with the newly elected Opposition leader, Pierre Poilievre.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is still strongly recommending that people wear masks, particularly in crowded environments such as planes and trains.

“The science is clear: wearing a mask is clearly a means of personal protection that is extremely effective,” said Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief health officer.

“I hope Canadians will make an enlightened decision about this.”

Duclos said the negative attitudes of some passengers have made things very difficult for airlines and crews to enforce the mask mandate in recent months, and cited that as a factor in the decision.

“The transmission of the variants of COVID are domestic-based, for the most part, and therefore, this is what we should stress: masking is highly recommended … but it is not something that can be, in a sense, forced.”

That is a change in messaging from earlier in the summer, when the government and public health officials insisted that maintaining measures at the border was necessary to track and prevent the introduction of new variants.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said there have been 38 million entries at the border in 2022 so far, more than double the number in all of last year. “We want to keep that momentum going.”

The controversial ArriveCan app will no longer be mandatory when the order expires.

“Going forward, use of ArriveCan will be optional, allowing travellers who so choose to submit their customs declaration in advance at major airports,” Mendicino said.

So far that option is available at international airports in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but that will be expanded to include Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Quebec City, Halifax and Billy Bishop airport in Toronto.

In addition, the Canada Border Services Agency is looking at adding features to ArriveCan to be able to provide information such as border wait times.

The changes do not remove the quarantine or testing requirements for people who enter Canada before Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Using artificial sweeteners may raise the risk of heart disease, study shows – Prestige Online Malaysia

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‘Debilitating’ heart palpitations could be sign of Long Covid – do you have the condition? – Express

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Heart palpitations can be a sign of several different problems – both mental and physical. Often, they’re caused by stress and anxiety. But over the course of the last few years, Long Covid has reportedly caused palpitations. A recent study has explored why this might happen.

Long Covid is when people suffer ongoing symptoms of Covid, 12 weeks after infection.

Some people with the condition have struggled with heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, or feeling faint.

Researchers, observing their patients, have concluded that these symptoms could be caused by problems with the autonomic nervous system – the part of your nervous system that monitors automatic activities such as heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.

Doctors and nurses at Hammersmith Hospital and Imperial College London believe that the “debilitating” palpitations and other symptoms were caused by “orthostatic intolerance syndrome”.

READ MORE: Princess Beatrice’s ongoing difficulty with ‘muddled’ thoughts swirling in her head

Orthostatic intolerance syndromes are when moving from a sitting or lying position to an upright position causes a low blood pressure in your arteries.

The British Heart Foundation explains: “When a healthy person stands up, some of the blood in the body will flow downwards with the pull of gravity.

“The body responds to prevent blood pressure falling – blood vessels narrow and there is a slight increase in heart rate.

“But in people with orthostatic problems, these automatic changes don’t happen.

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“Moving to an upright position causes a drop in the blood supply to the heart and brain and a fast heart rate as the body tries to compensate.”

For people that struggle with these issues with moving to an upright position, the study by Hammersmith Hospital and Imperial College London made recommendations.

It suggested: “Non-upright exercise such as cycling on a recumbent exercise bike and swimming are encouraged.”

It added: “The patient should be advised on rising cautiously from a lying or seated position and avoiding exacerbating factors such as prolonged standing, warm environments, and dehydration.”

READ MORE: Princess Beatrice’s ongoing difficulty with ‘muddled’ thoughts swirling in her head

Shingles, memory loss, tinnitus, itchy skin, and tremors were among the more abnormal symptoms experienced.

Some studies have suggested that long Covid is an autoimmune disease, similar to Parkinson’s disease. An autoimmune disease is when the body’s immune system attacks itself.

The body cannot tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells so causes the body to attack healthy cells.

According to one small study from 2021, 44 percent of long Covid patients involved had high levels of a type of antibody connected with other autoimmune diseases and lupus.

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