US study claims low dose radiation therapy could help treat pneumonia in COVID-19 patients; results under peer review
Preliminary results of a US study showed that within 24 hours of receiving low-dose radiation therapy, four COVID-19 patients with pneumonia showed rapid improvement in their breathing
Doctors have confirmed the fact that elder people and the ones with pre-existing medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing severe complications of COVID-19 infection. While some people just get mild breathing difficulties, others may end up requiring ventilator support. So far, doctors and scientists have mostly used drug therapy to find a cure for these patients. However, researchers at Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute in Georgia, US have found another way of treating patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19. According to the study, patients with severe complications of COVID-19 such as pneumonia can be treated with the use of radiation therapy.
These are the primary results of the ongoing trial, currently under peer review.
For the study, conducted between 23 to 28 April 2020, scientists recruited nine people with severe pneumonia due to COVID-19. Of the nine, two died before the therapy, one did not fit the severity criteria, and one needed to be intubated before the radiation therapy. The rest five patients were treated with low dose radiation therapy. The age of these patients ranged from 64 to 94 years. Each one of these patients had pneumonia visible on their chest X-rays, required supplemental oxygen, and had declining health.
The lungs of these patients were treated with a single dose low-radiation of 1.5 Gray (measuring unit of ionizing radiation) for 10 to 15 minutes.
According to the researchers, pneumonia in COVID-19 patients is the by-product of the cytokine storm caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus.
What's cytokine storm?
Normally, whenever any foreign microorganism enters the human body, the immune system of the body gets activated and deploys the cytokines (inflammatory cells) to fight against the microorganism. The fight between the cytokines and the microorganisms leads to the induction of inflammation in the localised area.
However, in cases where the immune system becomes hyperactive, the cytokines are released in an enormously huge amount leading to hyperinflammation. This is medically called a cytokine storm, which is one of the leading cause for cell death and ultimately organ damage and death in some critical patients with COVID-19 infection.
In many COVID-19 patients, cytokine storm reported in the lungs can lead to various respiratory complications including pneumonia.
Results of the study
The preliminary results of the study showed that within 24 hours of receiving low-dose radiation therapy, four patients showed rapid improvement in their breathing. They started to recover at an average of 1.5 days. All four of them were discharged by day 14. Blood tests and repeat imaging confirmed that low dose radiation appeared safe and effective in reducing their COVID-19 symptoms.
These patients showed no signs of toxicities, radiation-related dermatitis or cytopenia (reduced blood cells). No signs of increased cytokine storm were seen.
According to scientists, radiation therapy indirectly works on these patients, as it reduces the inflammation caused due to cytokine storm, thus relieving the respiratory issues.
The scientists believe that according to the primary reports, low-dose lung radiation appears safe amongst patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. However, further evaluation needs to be done to find out the efficacy of radiation therapy in such patients.
For more information, read our article on 4 inventive solutions to treat symptoms of COVID-19.
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