Possible game changer: LSU Health Shreveport trailblazing research into using nitric oxide as a COVID-19 treatment

Clinical trials now have been expanded to include those who are not critically ill

Possible game changer: LSU Health Shreveport trailblazing research into using nitric oxide as a COVID-19 treatment
Symptoms of the coronavirus-related multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children include stomach pain, vomiting, fever and possibly a rash. (Source: CDC/CNN)

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — LSU Health Shreveport is the first site in Louisiana and one of only five sites in the world to test nitric oxide as a possible treatment for coronavirus patients.

Researchers say their work, if successful, could prove to be a game changer in the battle against COVID-19.

There are two different nitric oxide clinical trials involving COVID-19 patients underway at LSU Health Shreveport, said Dr. Keith Scott, principal investigator for the nitric oxide clinical trial.

One involves inhaled nitric oxide for their sickest patients. “We bleed in the nitric oxide at a very high dose," Scott explained. "There’s two reasons we do that.

"The gas goes to the good part of the lung, It helps dilate the blood vessels so you get more oxygen. The other that we think is that it actually kills the virus itself.”

The other trial is for treatment of patients showing mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, Scott said.

“They get a very high dose twice a day. These are the patients who have the respiratory symptoms but don’t need a mechanical ventilator or don’t need high doses of oxygen.”

Scott said they are encouraged by the results they have been seeing thusfar. “We have to wait for all the data. But certainly some of the patients we’ve given it to, we see how sensitive they are to it," he explained.

“Meaning when they start looking better, we wean it down and they don’t do as well. So we have to wean it very, very slowly. Well, there is some signal there. So they are very dependent once they get on it. We think it’s going to be a good trial.”

This isn’t the first time nitric oxide has been employed in the fight against a strand of coronavirus. It was used on a small number of patients during the SARS outbreak in 2003, Dr. Lou Ignarro said.

“Back then, inhaled nitric oxide gas was given to those patients with SARS and it provided dramatic relief," said Ignarro, who earned a Nobel Prize in medicine for his studies using nitric oxide in 1998. His lab discovered that our bodies produce nitric oxide and that it can lower blood pressure.

That coronavirus and this coronavirus are fairly similar, Ignarro said in explaining the rationale for his study. So he said he had every reason to believe that inhaled nitric oxide also would be effective this time around.

“Science enables you, based on facts, to make certain predictions of certain outcomes. And this is one case where I truly believe, as do others, that the inhaled nitric oxide will work. If it works, it will save patient lives and it frees up the oxygen and beds in the ICU.”

If the current studies prove to be successful, Scott said he would like to see nitric oxide used on COVID-19 patients on a broader scale.

“We first have to see that it works the way we think it works. Then, at that point, we need to get it reviewed, make sure our analysis is accurate. And then I think it would go into widespread use pretty quickly.”

On a related note, will there be another wave of COVID-19?

"I think there will be a second wave and, if you look at it, there’s almost two waves,” Scott explained. "One wave is going to be the resurgence of acute infections.

"The other wave medically we have to prepare for is people that have had COVID and all these symptoms we are seeing after COVID. Like in pediatrics where we are seeing an inflammatory response and young people having strokes and heart attacks that just shouldn’t happen.”

Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health launched a study to learn more about how the coronavirus affects children.

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