Science

New treatment could help elderly COVID-19 patients

ELDERLY Covid-19 patients could be given anti-ageing drugs in a bid to restore their immune system so it can attack the coronavirus faster.

Older people have a suppressed immune system, meaning it takes longer for their body to identify and fight the virus. More than 80 percent of patients in hospitals with Covid-19 are over 65 years of age with a greater than 23-fold increased risk of death.

This additional time allows the virus to duplicate and cause severe symptoms – which may be worsened by pre-existing health conditions.

But Harvard experts say this could be avoided with NAD boosters, a relatively new class of anti-ageing drugs.

Lower levels of NAD+ in the system due to old age are believed to impair biological functions vital to health, which might be partly responsible to age-related diseases.

One of the paper authors said NAD is the “closest weve gotten to a fountain of youth”.

NHS data shows of hospitalised coronavirus patients, 72 percent are over the age of 60.

Furthermore, over 91 percent of patients who have died from the disease in England (total 20,853) are over the age of 60, data shows.

The Harvard paper, which is yet to be peer reviewed by other experts, said: “The most exciting and potentially impactful technologies to treat Covid-19 are those that activate the body’s defences against ageing.

“It may even be possible to reset the age of cells and tissues so currently high-risk individuals can respond to viral infections as though they were young.”

The Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School researchers said the severity of Covid-19 symptoms vary depending on how their system responds to the virus when it enters the body.

Pre-existing health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, fail to explain exactly why the elderly are less resilient, the team said.

An effective immune system response is to recognise the virus, alert the body to it and then destroy it with speed and then clear it from the body.

A young persons immune cells identify the coronavirus when it first enters the upper respiratory tract.

The mechanisms where the immune cells fight off the virus to stop the spread are “known to be dysfunctional” in the elderly, the paper said.

Viral alert signals are slow, resulting in a greater number of virus duplicates, and subsequently the virus accessing the lower respiratory tract where it can affect more cells.

During ageing, the immune system changes in two fundamental ways which are “major drivers of the high mortality rates in older patients”, according to the research.

Firstly, there is a gradual decrease in immune activity, called immunosenescence, which diminishes the body’s ability to identify pathogens and act accordingly.

The second immune change is a chronic increase in inflammation. It means the body avidly recognises a pathogen but does not effectively respond to it.

NAD boosters are supplements that contain nicotinamide riboside, a form of vitamin B3. When taken as a supplement, the body converts the nicotinamide riboside to NAD+ – the coenzyme found in younger people.

David Sinclair, an author of the recent Harvard paper, said at the time: “NAD+ is the closest weve gotten to a fountain of youth.

“Its one of the most important molecules for life to exist, and without it, youre dead in 30 seconds.”

The team also said NAD boosters and other techniques may be needed to improve the effectiveness of vaccines, which typically are weaker in the elderly.

They write: “In the aged, immune responses to vaccination are often weak or defective

“Therefore, in designing vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, it will be important to consider that older people may not respond as well to vaccines as young people.”


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