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Current Affairs

Nicotine and COVID-19

Date: 05 May 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Researchers have put forward a hypothesis that the presence of nicotine actually equips the body to fight COVID-19. And they are conducting trials to test the hypothesis.

 

Background

The researchers’ hypothesis is based on the combination of two different but complementary scientific approaches. One of these two approaches is based on a statistical analysis of COVID-19 deaths in a French hospital, and the other on the biochemistry of the human body.

 

Details

  • It draws from an observation of the proportion of smokers among patients who died of COVID-19. In the hospitalised in-patients vs less severe out-patients, a smoking rate of 4.4% vs 5.3% was found, both very low against 25.4% in the general population. This finding has been confirmed by an independent study.

  • Receptors are structures composed of protein, and they receive signals that may be integrated into the body. These signals can come from various substances, such as a hormone, a drug, or an antigen.

  • For example, the surface of the human cell has receptors called ACE2, which open the door for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2 to enter the body.

  • At the centre of the nicotine hypothesis is a receptor that responds to nicotine as well as a chemical called acetylcholine. Hence its name: “nicotinic acetylcholine receptor”, abbreviated as nAChR. It is found in parts of the nervous system, muscle and certain tissues of organisms including humans.

  • Since nicotine is known to bind with the nAChR receptor, the second part of the hypothesis goes like this: If nicotine is present on the receptor, and the novel coronavirus arrives, then the nicotine would block the interaction.

  • The rabies virus is known to bind with the same receptor, and this interaction is driven by a sequence of genetic material that exists in the envelope around the rabies virus.

  • The widely accepted view is that the lungs of smokers are already compromised to various extents, hence they are likely to be more vulnerable to a disease that attacks the respiratory system.