Coronavirus treatment: US scientists find a way to use charcoal to fight cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients
Certain nanozymes made from charcoal were highly effective antioxidants that help in breaking down the damage-causing reactive oxygen species (ROS).
COVID-19 has affected more than 10 million people across the globe and led to over half a million deaths already. This infectious disease is known to produce severe life-threatening complications such as lung infections, pneumonia, sepsis, septic shock, kidney damage and organ damage in some people. Those with preexisting comorbidities are especially vulnerable. Even though the virus is believed to be a respiratory virus, it damages the other organs as well - one of the reasons this happens is a cytokine storm.
Generally, when any foreign microorganism enters the human body, the immune system of the body gets activated and sends the cytokines (inflammatory cells) to fight against the microorganism. Due to this fight, inflammation increases in that localised area. In some cases, the immune system becomes hyperactive and releases cytokines in excessively large numbers, leading to hyperinflammation. This is known as a cytokine storm which results in cell death and, ultimately, organ damage. This is also one of the leading causes of death in some critical patients with COVID-19 infection.
However, researchers from Rice University, the University of Texas Health Science Center's McGovern Medical School and the Texas A&M Health Science Center have found a way to use charcoal to treat this cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients.
The study, published in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Applied Nano Materials on 29 June 2020, stated that the artificial enzymes made by treating highly soluble charcoal can help in reducing the damage caused by the superoxides (reactive oxygen) and free radicals of oxygen which are otherwise toxic for the body.
Earlier the scientists had used coal and carbon to form compounds such as graphene quantum dots and polyethylene glycol-hydrophilic carbon clusters, to fight against the free radicals. But since coal was quite expensive, the scientists now used powdered, medical-grade charcoal mixed with highly concentrated nitric acid to form nanozymes (nanomaterials with enzyme-like characteristics).
These nanozymes made from this charcoal were filled with oxygen-containing functional groups such as alcohols, ethers, aldehydes, ketones, and carboxylic acids. They were highly effective antioxidants that help in breaking down the damage-causing reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are formed in the body after an injury or stroke.
The head of the research, James Tour, stated that these nanozymes act as superoxide dismutases, which break down the ROS into ordinary oxygen and hydrogen peroxide molecules. So, it is no longer harmful to the body.
The scientists found that nanozymes enter the membrane of the cells and relieve the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) which is a major source of these free radicals. This whole process is carried out without causing any damage to the cells.
Nanozymes against cytokine storm
Studies have shown that free radicals in the body can act as a trigger for inflammation to occur in the body after a trauma. Moreover, ROS allows the activation of NFkB protein which helps in the production of cytokines in the body. Thus, the release of these cytokines in large amounts results in the increase of the inflammatory response in the body.
The scientists believe that these nanozymes can be helpful in treating the cytokine storm which can otherwise cause serious complications in COVID-19 patients.
For more information, read our article on Causes of death in COVID-19 patients.
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