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Researchers say nitric oxide treatment is safe, helps COVID patients breathe; further biological data needed

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SHREVEPORT - LSU researchers say they are encouraged by the preliminary results for a therapeutic COVID-19 treatment they are testing.

The LSU Health Center in Shreveport is one of the only health centers in the country that is currently enrolling patients in a clinical trial that uses a gas, known as nitric oxide, to help fight the coronavirus.

“If this turns out to really work, it will be a game-changer for part of the therapy for COVID-19 lung disease,” LSU health professor Dr. Keith Scott said.

Over the past two months, Scott and his staff have enrolled a handful of patients in a clinical trial, testing the therapeutic effects of the gas against the virus.

Their first interim analysis, involving four other health centers across the country, has been completed. Researchers have been given the green light to keep going.

“The committee that is independent of this looked at it and said it’s absolutely safe. Keep going with the trial. We’re not seeing a problem, so that’s very encouraging,” Scott said.

Hospitalized patients on ventilators and patients with mild cases of COVID-19 have been inhaling the colorless, odorless gas daily in moderate and high doses.

Scott says the research has shown that the gas helps to improve patients’ oxygen levels.

“More importantly, when we start turning down the nitric oxide to wean people off, how sensitive they are to it. And they’ll drop their oxygen, and we have to turn it up just a tad bit, and their oxygen returns back to where it was. So, we know it’s doing something and we know it’s helping,” Scott said.

The next step is biologically proving that it can ease inflammation caused by the coronavirus, or even better, Scott says, prove that it can kill the virus altogether.

“Is this as virucidal as we think? Meaning that it kills or at least inactivates the virus. And that’s why we give very high doses. And that’s one of the things we’re really looking at. We’ve just expanded our trials to include some blood sampling, where we can look at bio-markers to see if it actually maybe mitigates the inflammatory response. And we just got that approved actually yesterday,” Scott said.

The ultimate hope is that the nitric oxide will shorten the duration of the virus, allowing seriously ill virus patients to stop using ventilators and preventing mild cases from becoming severe. Until more hard data becomes available for analysis, Scott is feeling hopeful just from what he’s personally seen.

“Clinically, and just looking at the way the patients do, I’m very encouraged. Just the feeling, and like I said, the biology makes sense. So, I’m very encouraged, but we again have to wait till we look at the data,” Scott said.

This isn’t a cure for the virus, Scott said. But he hopes that it will prove to be an effective therapeutic treatment. He says they’ll be able to release more results in the coming months.

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