Doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) are enrolling patients in an international clinical trial to find out if inhaled nitric oxide benefits those with Covid-19 who have severely damaged lungs.
Right now, there are no approved treatments for the illness caused by the new coronavirus. A severe form of lung failure called acute respiratory distress syndrome is the leading cause of death in Covid-19.
When lungs are failing, air is received by some parts of them but not others. Nitric oxide is a gas that improves blood flow in areas of the lungs that are getting air, increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood stream.
Nitric oxide also reduces the workload of the right side of the heart, which is under extreme stress during lung failure.
Destroys potential toxins
Along with being used to treat failing lungs, nitric oxide has been found to have antiviral properties against coronaviruses. That was shown during the 2002–2003 SARS outbreak, which was caused by a coronavirus similar to the one that causes Covid-19.
Any Covid-19 patient in UAB's intensive care unit who is using a ventilator to breathe may qualify for the study.
"This trial will allow the sickest Covid-19 patients at UAB access to a rescue therapy that may have antiviral benefits in addition to improving the status of lungs," Dr Vibhu Parcha said in a university news release. He's a research fellow in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease.
"In humans, nitric oxide is generated within the blood vessels and regulates blood pressure, and prevents the formation of clots and also destroys potential toxins," said Dr Pankaj Arora, an assistant professor of cardiovascular disease. His team plans to study the cardiovascular effects of high-dose inhaled nitric oxide as part of the primary clinical trial.