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Covid-19 update: 03 September 2020

03 Sep 2020

A round-up of this week's coronavirus-related news and countermeasures from the photonics industry.

An international team of researchers have discovered a new site on the SARS-CoV-2 virus that can be neutralized by a specific antibody. Previous studies have reported that antibodies that block the virus interaction with the human receptor (ACE2) have a “significant neutralizing effect” and can be used to save the lives of critically ill patients.

However, this recent study published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology describes a different target that can be bound in synergy with ACE2 blocking antibodies for a stronger neutralizing effect. Together, with a group at a hospital in Taiwan, the team using the Electron Bio Imaging Centre at the UK’s national synchroton, Diamond Light Source; to identify antibodies from a convalescent patient that could create a real potential for a drug target.

Antibodies harvested from people recovering from the disease can be injected into Covid-19 patients and can significantly reduce the severity of the disease and lessen the potential long-term effects. There is also evidence that antibody therapy can prevent serious symptoms from developing when administered before an individual is infected.

Scientists were able to isolate an antibody named EY6A from a patient recovering from Covid-19. Subsequent structural biology studies revealed that EY6A bound to a novel target on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and demonstrated a new way of preventing the spread of the disease.

“This finding is valuable because it comes from a real patient who had the virus. And the discovery of this new target means that more effective combination therapies which attack the virus at different points are now possible,” commented author Prof. Dave Stuart, Director of Life Sciences at Diamond Light Source and Joint Head of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford, UK.

Diamond’s research is centered on drug targets for Covid-19. The focus is mainly on the virus spikes, the receptor binding and the main protease. One specific part of its work, in conjunction with the University of Oxford, has been to look at these spikes on the outside of the virus. The work is described in the Nature paper Structural basis for the neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 by an antibody from a convalescent patient.

To increase public awareness about the effectiveness of face shields alone as well as face masks with exhalation valves, researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science used qualitative visualizations to test how face shields and masks with valves perform in impeding the spread of aerosol-sized droplets. The researchers’ key conclusion: widespread public use of these alternatives to regular masks could potentially have an adverse effect on mitigation efforts.

For the study, published in Physics of Fluids, the FAU researchers employed flow visualization in a laboratory setting using a laser light sheet and a mixture of distilled water and glycerine to generate the synthetic fog that made up the content of a cough-jet. They visualized droplets expelled from a mannequin’s mouth while simulating coughing and sneezing. By placing a plastic face shield and an N95-rated face mask with a valve, they were able to demonstrate how they performed.

Results of the study show that although face shields block the initial forward motion of the jet, the expelled droplets move around the visor with relative ease and spread out over a large area depending on light ambient disturbances. Visualizations for the facemask equipped with an exhalation port indicate that a large number of droplets pass through the exhale valve unfiltered, which significantly reduces its effectiveness as a means of source control.

“From this latest study, we were able to observe that face shields are able to block the initial forward motion of the exhaled jet, however, aerosolized droplets expelled with the jet are able to move around the visor with relative ease,” said Manhar Dhanak, Ph.D., department chair, professor, and director of SeaTech, who co-authored the paper. “Over time, these droplets can disperse over a wide area in both lateral and longitudinal directions, albeit with decreasing droplet concentration.”

The researchers say that the key takeaway from this latest study illustrates that face shields and masks with exhale valves may not be as effective as regular face masks in restricting the spread of aerosolized droplets.

Virtual ELISS 2020 meeting engaged by 433 laser researchers

The pandemic gave no excuse to cancel the 5th edition of the European high power laser R&D organization’s ELI Summer School (ELISS). Although students could not attend the sessions in person, more than 400 young scientists from 43 countries joined the event held alternatingly by the different pillars of ELI (Extreme Light Infrastructure).

The course organized by ELI-ALPS Research Institute between 26 and 28 August provided researchers and students with a comprehensive overview of high-intensity laser pulses and laser-driven particle and radiation sources, as well as to introduce ELI’s research activity and attract potential users to Szeged. The innovative digital solutions successfully supported this goal, as over seven times more students listened to the lectures than in previous in-person summer schools.

The organizers invited 28 researchers to talk about their latest research results which have a major impact on attosecond science. The topics ranged from lasers and their applications through X-ray optics and condensed matter physics, plasma beams to atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

Speakers were internationally recognized scientists of the field, such as Professor Katalin Varjú, Science Director of ELI-ALPS, Professor Dimitris Charalambidis, Chief Scientific Advisor of ELI-ALPS, Professor Károly Osvay, Head of Institute for Application of High Intensity Lasers in Nuclear Physics, University of Szeged. The event was opened by Professor Gábor Szabó, Managing Director of ELI-ALPS. The school’s program also featured Nobel Prize winner Gérard Mourou, Professor at École Polytechnique in Paris, and Toshiki Tajima, Professor at the University of California and Director of Science at TAE.

Women-led countries coping better with pandemic

Countries with women at the helm like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Ministers Mette Frederiksen and Sanna Marin of Denmark and Finland, respectively, have received worldwide praise for their success in handling the Covid-19 crisis, according to new global analysis.

But, the study Leading the Fight Against the Pandemic: Does Gender Really Matter? published by SSRN adds at the same time, that not all male-led nations have performed badly in these positions: “The Czech Republic, Greece, Australia and Vietnam are all shining examples."

However, few countries with women leaders have not got the job done. Researchers analysed 194 countries and found that those led by women locked down earlier and suffered half as many deaths on average as those led by male heads of government. The researchers assessed policy responses and ensuing total Covid-19 cases and deaths in these countries through Mayth, considered as the "first quarter of the pandemic".

The study takes into account factors such as gross domestic product, total population, urban population density, the proportion of older residents, annual health expenditure per person, openness to global travel and overall level of gender equality in society. Since only 19 of the 194 countries were being led by women when the research was conducted, the authors created nearest neighbour groups to compare similar countries. For example, they compared Germany (Angela Merkel) and the United Kingdom (Boris Johnson).

“Our results clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities,” commented co-author Supriya Garikipati from the University of Liverpool. “In almost all cases, they locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances. While this may have longer-term economic implications, it has certainly helped these countries to save lives, as evidenced by the significantly lower number of deaths in these countries.”

Garikipati added: “Our findings show that Covid outcomes are systematically and significantly better in countries led by women and, to some extent, this may be explained by the proactive policy responses they adopted. Even accounting for institutional context and other controls, being female-led has provided countries with an advantage in the current crisis.”

IBM study analyzes consumers' Covid-19 expectations

The latest findings of an ongoing IBM Institute for Business Value survey of consumers worldwide, published September 2nd, reveal that across the globe individuals “remain highly concerned” about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their daily lives, but there are clear differences in outlook across age groups and countries.

The technology giant’s survey of more than 14,500 adults across Brazil, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States showed that due to the pandemic individuals are making marked changes in how they work, shop and live. IBM says these new habits “may not shift dramatically even once a vaccine becomes available.”

"Our data tells us that many individuals are looking for more transparency and flexibility from their employers as they navigate this great uncertainty caused by the pandemic," commented Jesus Mantas, senior managing partner, IBM Services. "Organizations need to focus on building trust with their workforce and customers, and agility to deliver solutions that meet them where they are."

IBM also concludes that “global optimism remains stagnant with concerns divided among generations and countries”. Consumers globally report high levels of concern about the pandemic and its impact on their lives. The overwhelming majority of global respondents said they believe we will see more pandemic events like this in the future: 69% of Americans surveyed expressed concern about a second wave hitting later in 2020, while in the UK, Mexico, Spain and Brazil, at least three in four respondents expressed similar views.

And 70% of surveyed Americans said Covid-19 has made them more concerned about the safety and health of themselves and their families, consistent with July. 88% of Brazilians and 54% of Germans surveyed agreed. There is some consumer optimism, however, with one-third of responding Americans who believe the U.S. economy will recover in 2021. Compared to other countries, respondents in India and China were the most optimistic about their national economies recovering in 2020.

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