I-TEAM: Have these two MCG doctors found a breakthrough that could treat more than coronavirus?

Thursday, May 14, 2020
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

They didn't set out to crack the coronavirus code, but two researchers at the Medical College of Georgia say they've just made a big breakthrough.(Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- They didn't set out to crack the coronavirus code, but two researchers at the Medical College of Georgia say they've just made a big breakthrough.

It’s so big they have applied for a grant with the National Institute of Health to try to take their findings to the next level.

Age is really an age-old problem. We might face our symptoms a little differently, but eventually, time has a way of carving itself out and none of us are immune.

"Theoretically, each person has the capability to essentially live forever. But we don't,” Dr. Carlos Isales said. “The question is, 'why don't we?' We found that the answer to that is contained in some of our genetic material."

Isales is the co-director at the MCG Center for Healthy Aging. He -- like the rest of us -- watched as COVID-19 spread from person to person and country to country.

"And we thought like this is our responsibility to do something,” Dr. Sadanand Fulzele said.

Fulzele also studies how we age, so when it became evident COVID-19 was proving especially dangerous to seniors, they teamed up to take a closer look.

"So the initial focus of this project was not COVID. It's really, really on aging, but it shares a lot of the same characteristics of why we're prone to get these infections,” Isales said.

Turns out it's because of something called RNA. It’s kind of like DNA’s cousin -- just with one strand instead of two. They're both related because they both carry genetic material, but they're also very different. Enter coronavirus.

Our bodies send an army of tiny RNA to fight it. The problem is older people don't have as many soldiers as young people do.

The researchers found that but they say the coronavirus has discovered that, too.

"I was surprised by the, I don't know, call it cleverness, but the adaptability of this virus to take advantage of those weaknesses,” Isales said.
Which brings us to an idea already being tested in animals in other labs: giving them RNA via a nasal spray.

"They found that there is a decrease or no viral infection,” Fulzele said.

In other words, let’s give them more soldiers so they have a bigger army. There could also be a bigger picture.

The coronavirus is just one battle. Think of the others -- like cancer -- we also fight as we get older. Maybe RNA therapy could help in a lot of ways -- because sooner or later, we all end up waging our own war against time.

“But it's not something that we're going to be able to come up with overnight,” Isales said. “So in the meantime, I'd encourage your viewers to be careful."

Here's where that grant comes in. It would allow them to focus just on the coronavirus and ways to help our most vulnerable patients beat it. They should hear back in a month -- maybe a month and a half.

Researchers are already moving toward producing a synthetic micro RNA, but there's no word on a timeline yet.

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