Thousands of scientists around the world are working on problems raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a summary of some recent research from peer-reviewed academic journals and scientific agencies:

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Scientists writing in the British journal BMJ report they've estimated the effect physical distancing has on the spread of the novel coronavirus. Their study involves 34 different international jurisdictions across four continents. Using a mobile phone app that tracks planned trips using public transit, researchers found a 10 per cent decrease in mobility was associated with a nearly 12 per cent decrease in the spread of the virus. They found a two-week time lag between the start of the distancing requirements and slowing of the infection rate. The study was released as a preprint and has not been peer reviewed.

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BMJ is also publishing a report analyzing the models doctors are using to anticipate the effect of COVID-19 in patients. The report contains 31 different prediction models and concludes that all were "at high risk of bias." It said the models were based on research that had several problems, including poorly designed control groups. It warns that although prediction models are needed to help medical decision-making, the ones in use may be too optimistic. Unreliable predictors "could cause more harm than benefit in guiding clinical decisions."

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Preliminary results on the use of blood plasma from recovering COVID-19 patients to treat the newly afflicted have shown encouraging results. In a pilot study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 10 patients between the ages of 34 and 78 received plasma containing high levels of novel coronavirus antibody. Within three days, symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and chest pain, significantly improved. Patients had improved liver and lung function and reduced inflammation. Within seven days, lung lesions were being reabsorbed. No serious adverse reactions were observed.

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An oral antiviral drug has stopped the novel coronavirus from reproducing in lab tests on human cells, says research published in the journal Science. EIDD-2801 also improved lung function, reduced viral load and prevented weight loss in mice when it was administered either before or within 48 hours of the mice being infected. The researchers did not examine the drug’s efficacy when administered to mice more than two days after infection.

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The website Retraction Watch notes that the paper that appears to have triggered U.S. President Donald Trump's interest in the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment is being questioned by the society that publishes the journal in which the work appeared. The International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy says the March 20 article did not meet the society's standards. Retraction Watch says hydroxychloroquine is not without side effects and is essential to patients suffering with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, who now have to hope that they can still get the drug.

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The journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences has examined all current clinical trials of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. A breakdown of all 344 trials suggests what scientists feel is most likely to yield results. There are about 70 trials of drugs known to be effective on other similar viruses. Antimalarial drugs are the subject of another 35 trials. Therapies using stem cells or blood plasma from recovering COVID-19 patients are being studied in 46 trials, and drugs that work on the immune system are the subject of another 35. A variety of other approaches are also being tested. The study notes there are about 100 ongoing clinical trials of traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, on COVID-19.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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