JUL 17, 2020 8:37 AM PDT

Could Low-Dose Radiation Therapy Treat COVID-19?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Research from a century ago points towards the potential of low-dose radiation therapy (LDRT) for treating pneumonia. Even though studies reported symptoms to subside within just a few hours of a single X-ray, doctors took little notice. Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, new interest is gathering around the controversial research. 

"Back in February, I started getting just dozens and dozens and dozens of emails from radiation oncologists —people who treat cancer patients with targeted radiation. And they had come across our paper and they thought that this might be a vehicle by which they could help suffering and dying Covid patients perhaps survive," says toxicologist Edward Calabrese, from the University of Massachusets, who wrote a paper on the potential of radiation therapy in 2013. 

There are currently at least a dozen trials worldwide investigating the impact of LDRT in treating pneumonia from COVID-19. In countries including Italy, Iran, India, and the US, studies are recruiting between five and 106 COVID-19 patients with pneumonia, under the condition that half are at least 40 years old. 

The theory goes that targeted radiation to the lungs can prevent inflammation from getting out of control in what's known as a 'cytokine storm'- one of the leading causes for deaths by COVID-19. To do so, some hypothesize that LDRT may be able to 'flick a switch' inside immune cells, so that they become anti-inflammatory instead. 

Despite some hope that the treatment may work, experts are divided. While some are optimistic, others say that the radiation may in fact, exacerbate respiratory damage and perhaps introduce a cancer risk. Others say that patients partaking in this treatment may miss out on more promising treatments. 

Some interim results however from a clinical trial of 10 patients with COVID-19 at Emory University seem positive. All of the first five patients at an average of 90 years old or over were alive two weeks following treatment and no longer needed oxygen within 24 hours of LDRT. 

While promising results for some, others remain unconvinced. Ralph Weichselbaum, a radiation oncologist at the University of Chicago, said, "No one's going to be able to tell if it worked or not, unless it's a huge trial. By that time there will be some other treatment like steroids, which is a lot less dangerous and makes a lot more sense and is a lot more scientifically based... It's not thought-out. It's not of value. I don't take anything from these cases."

 

Sources: StatnewsmedRxiv

About the Author
  • Science writer with a keen interest in behavioral biology, consciousness medicine and technology. Her current focus is how the interplay of these fields can create meaningful interactions, products and environments.
You May Also Like
FEB 22, 2021
Microbiology
A Nasal Spray That Seems to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
FEB 22, 2021
A Nasal Spray That Seems to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
Reporting in Science, researchers have created an antiviral nasal spray that could help us get the COVID-19 pandemic und ...
MAR 15, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
When Sample Temperature Matters: How to Keep Your Cool in the Lab
MAR 15, 2021
When Sample Temperature Matters: How to Keep Your Cool in the Lab
Temperature control is critical to many molecular and cellular experiments, but managing sample temperature requires eit ...
MAR 09, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Leprosy Drug Repurposed for Potential COVID19 Treatment
MAR 09, 2021
Leprosy Drug Repurposed for Potential COVID19 Treatment
New research published in Nature study shows that a drug for treating leprosy was repurposed to treat COVID19. The study ...
APR 22, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
New Method To Fast Track Drug Development
APR 22, 2021
New Method To Fast Track Drug Development
The time it takes to respond to disease outbreaks is critical. But designing drugs to combat these disease outbreaks is ...
MAY 04, 2021
Immunology
One Vaccine to Rule Them All
MAY 04, 2021
One Vaccine to Rule Them All
There are currently five variants of concern in the U.S., genetically distinct forms of the COVID-causing coronavirus th ...
MAY 06, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Are Hallucinations Necessary for Psychedelics to Treat Depression?
MAY 06, 2021
Are Hallucinations Necessary for Psychedelics to Treat Depression?
Many who work with psychedelics say that hallucinations, or psychedelic experiences, are an integral part of psychedelic ...
Loading Comments...