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LSU Health Shreveport moving forward with promising clinical trials for COVID-19

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SHREVEPORT - Researchers in Louisiana are working to bring some relief to patients suffering from severe cases of COVID-19.

Two new clinical trials are just starting up at Ochsner LSU Health in Shreveport. Doctors are hoping they can prove that some already-in-use medical therapy practices can help fight against the virus and ultimately save lives.

LSU Health is among the first health centers in the U.S. enrolling patients, with severe lung damage, in an international study testing the effects of inhaling a gas known as nitric oxide.

"They noticed in the SARS scare that when it was used, some of these people got dramatically better," Doctor Keith Scott, a professor at LSUS Health, said. Doctor Scott is also the Principal Investigator of the inhaled nitric oxide clinical trial.

One of the current uses of colorless, odorless gas, already approved by the FDA, is treating newborns with cardiovascular issues. Researchers now want to prove it can similarly help relieve severe inflammation of the lungs, among other complications, caused by coronavirus. 

Doctor Scott says that nitric oxide has also been used in Italy to treat coronavirus patients. However, he says that no clinical trials were conducted to outright prove the gas as a reliable treatment option.

But according to Doctor Scott, there's some evidence that suggests inhaling nitric oxide may even kill the virus altogether.

"So much inflammation. They get micro-vascular clotting. And so nitric just biologically made sense. Because it also shows some anti-viral activity. So it not only improves the blood flow and heart function but it might actually help kill the virus itself," Scott said.

In the coming days, the first trial will focus on a handful of hospitalized patients who require ventilators to assist with breathing. Doctor Scott said there are a few differences between this medical therapy and other treatments that make him hopeful.

"It directly addresses what's killing most patients that we have, and that is lung failure. And we're going right to the source. And hopefully, we can mitigate a lot of inflammation. A lot of the other therapies work indirectly to reduce the inflammation. And so we're hoping this is more of a direct effect. And, again, it's easily delivered most hospitals have it and we could start it right away. It wouldn't have to go through any regulatory process," Scott said.

Patients enrolled in the study will first receive a high dosage of nitric oxide for two days. After two days, the dosage will be reduced to half of the first dosage. Scott said that patients will continue to receive the gas until their oxygen levels improve or they're able to stop using a ventilator.

Another clinical study that just started this weekend at LSU Health in Shreveport deals with recovering coronavirus patients and how they can help those suffering from acute respiratory distress caused by the coronavirus.

"We initiated the first in the state of convalescent plasma therapy. And so what this is, individuals who recovered from COVID-19 mount an immune response. And they can donate plasma. And that plasma can then be used and given to patients who are critically ill. Because individuals who have recovered have made what are called antibodies to the virus. And these antibodies can help attack the virus," Doctor Chris Kevil, Vice Chancellor for Research at LSUS Health, said.

A person must first test positive and then later test negative for COIVD-19 before going to a blood bank to donate plasma. Doctor Kevil said this type of medical therapy has been widely used in the past.

"In many diseases, both viral and bacterial, this kind of convalescent plasma therapy has been done successfully in the past. However this is new," Doctor Kevil said.

Both the nitric oxide and plasma donation therapies will be thoroughly tested before determining if they can help get patients off of ventilators or prevent needing one in the first place.

"Obviously, we have patients that need advanced intervention and critical care interventions. But we're doing it in a rigorous and methodical way, clinically testing it, to see if this kind of research and this kind of therapy will be beneficial," Doctor Kevil said.

A second nitric oxide trial for patients hospitalized but not on ventilators is the next in line to start.

The LSU Health Center is working with five medical facilities in the U.S. and across the world to track patient data regarding their clinical trials. 

They hope to know in about a month if these medical therapies effectively work against the coronavirus without presenting any major side effects to patients.

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