Daily Dose: Largest COVID-19 therapy trial had a lot of disappointing data; New tech may help count the world’s trees.

Data may not always tell the whole story, but it is important. That’s why a massive COVID-19 therapy trial that has been conducted since the early days of the pandemic is so significant. It provides information from which decisions can be based. Unfortunately, the results aren’t good. Per Science, “One of the world’s biggest trials of COVID-19 therapies released its long-awaited interim results yesterday—and they’re a letdown. None of the four treatments in the Solidarity trial, which enrolled more than 11,000 patients in 400 hospitals around the globe, increased survival—not even the much-touted antiviral drug remdesivir. Scientists at the World Health Organization (WHO) released the data as a preprint on medRxiv last night ahead of its planned publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.” Gilead’s Remdesivir also failed to show any statistically significant improvement in COVID-19 fatalities. However, the worst data came from the use of interferon-beta. Therapeutic use actually resulted in increased mortality compared to no use at all. https://bit.ly/343q99g

Preventing exposure to SARS-CoV-2 through non-pharmaceutical interventions such as mask wearing is a major component in COVID-19 mitigation. Unfortunately, none of the most prevalent methods offer complete protection, only varying degrees. Researchers in Japan turned to its supercomputer to design the most protective facemask possible that could be used in practical situations. Per the Japan Times, “Using the Fugaku supercomputer, the world’s fastest, a consortium of Japanese researchers has developed a wrap-around face shield that can more effectively block airborne droplets and reduce exposure to the coronavirus for diners at pubs and restaurants….The face shield is made of a transparent thermoplastic material and its mouth covering can be easily moved to the side so that people can eat while wearing it. The product, which also protects the eyes, is now being tested at several restaurants in the Tokyo area.” While useful, it’s still a little cumbersome, something that will do little to win over the anti-mask portion of the population. https://bit.ly/2T6RnFH

When China reversed course and decided to join the WHO-led COVID-19 vaccine consortium, COVAX, it provided developing countries with a not-insignificant pathway toward vaccines developed by a major scientific power. Turns out, it may also benefit China as well. A piece in the South China Morning Post explains, “Joining the initiative, after having initially opted out, will give China access to vaccines not previously available in its domestic market and could help its scandal-plagued vaccine industry gain the international recognition it has lacked, experts said.” The Chinese governments like to tout projects, like its massive Belt and Road Initiative, that it insists are Win-Win. This may qualify. https://bit.ly/2IFYrHL

Countries with significant traditional medicine histories have been eager to promote it on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic. China has repeatedly championed herbal medicine on par with science-based options. India isn’t far behind. Per Science, “On 6 October, health minister Harsh Vardhan released recommendations for preventing COVID-19 and treating mild cases based on Ayurveda, India’s millenniaold system of herbal medicine, triggering sharp criticism from the Indian Medical Association (IMA), a group of more than one-quarter of a million modern medicine practitioners. In a press release, IMA demanded Vardhan produce evidence of the treatments’ efficacy; if he’s unable to do so, the association wrote, Vardhan is ‘inflicting a fraud on the nation and gullible patients by calling placebos as drugs.’” As if there isn’t enough confusion regarding COVID-19 treatments that work… https://bit.ly/3duZDsK

Yesterday it was the World Bank getting involved in the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the International Monetary Fund has joined the fray, albeit in a jawboning sense. According to India Today, “International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has said strong international cooperation on Covid-19 vaccines could speed up the world economic recovery and add $9 trillion to global income by 2025. Speaking at a news conference after a meeting of the IMF’s steering committee, Georgieva also called on the United States and China to keep up strong economic stimulus that could help boost a global recovery.” Guess that’s one way of convincing countries to collaborate on vaccine development. Money talks right? https://bit.ly/2GXI2Op

Extreme temperatures are normally the most common conditions necessary for materials to exhibit superconductivity. Now, an exception to that rule appears to have been discovered. Per Nature, “Scientists have created a mystery material that seems to conduct electricity without any resistance at temperatures of up to about 15 °C. That’s a new record for superconductivity, a phenomenon usually associated with very cold temperatures. The material itself is poorly understood, but it shows the potential of a class of superconductors discovered in 2015.” Unfortunately,the material has a serious limitation. It depends on extremely high pressures to seen on the Earth’s surface. So that sort of brings us back to square one. https://go.nature.com/31cLBqJ

Returning to the subject of data, a recent study has shown how advances in satellite imagery may soon allow for a more granular analysis of woody-vegetation ecosystems from space. “Writing in Nature, Brandt et al. report their analysis of a massive database of high-resolution satellite images covering more than 1.3 million square kilometres of the western Sahara and Sahel regions of West Africa. The authors mapped the location and size of more than 1.8 billion individual tree canopies; never before have trees been mapped at this level of detail across such a large area.” The information would provide a fundamental improvement of our understanding of global-scale ecology, biogeography and the biogeochemical cycles of carbon, water and other nutrients. https://go.nature.com/31bbabO

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend. Be kind. Be safe.

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