Medicines copying effect of cigarette smoke reduce ability of COVID-19 virus to infect humans, says Japan study

New research conducted at the Hiroshima University in Japan claims that particular drugs that imitate the effect that cigarette smoke has, thereby diminishing the COVID-19 causing coronavirus’ ability to enter the body.

Published in the Journal Scientific Reports, the study found two drugs to be particularly effective in minimizing the SARS-COV-2 virus’s capabilities of binding with human cells. As per the research, the drugs imitate the impact of chemicals present in smoke from cigarette, helping it to bind to receptors in human cells which obstructs the creation of ACE2 proteins. This reduces the capability of the COVID-19 virus to enter cells.

The research comes on the back of several reports where the incidence of COVID-19 infection was observed to be much less in smokers in comparison to non-smokers. However, it is pertinent to point out that smoking can cause a more severe COVID-19 infection.

The findings

Smoke from cigarette contains chemicals which bind to and activate receptors (structures of a cell’s surface or insides which have a specific purpose of binding to specific substances). The SARS-COV-2 binds to receptors called the ACE2 protein before they enter healthy cells and infect them. These ACE2 receptors have the highest volume in cells that originate in the oral cavity, lungs and liver.

The scientists exposed such cells to a range of cigarette-smoke extract (CSE) doses over a 24-hour period. Based on the amount of dosage, the cells in live and lungs produced lesser amount of the receptors which diminishes the chances of the coronavirus to bind to and infect cells.

The two drugs part of the study and found to have this deterring effect on the SARS-COV-2 virus were 6‑formylindolo(3,2‑b) carbazole (FICZ) and omeprazole (OMP), a widely used medicine that treats peptic ulcers and acid reflux

The research team will not enter a phase 2 of the study to conduct pre-clinical and clinical trials to find out if this can become a novel therapy against COVID-19 infection.

The scientists, however, stressed that smoking is evidently linked to chances of a serious COVID-19 infection. As per Keiji Tanimoto, corresponding author of the study at Hiroshima University’s Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, “We must stress the presence of strong evidence showing that smoking increases the severity of covid-19. But the mechanism we discovered here is worth further investigation as a potential tool to fight SARS-CoV-2 infections.”

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