Antioxidant enzyme potential therapeutic for COVID-19

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Catalase, a naturally occurring enzyme, holds potential as a low-cost therapeutic drug to treat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms and suppress the replication of coronavirus inside the body, according to a new study by researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and China published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Catalase is produced naturally and used by humans, animals, and plants. Inside cells, the antioxidant enzyme kick starts the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide, which can be toxic, into water and oxygen. The enzyme is also commonly used worldwide in food production and as a dietary supplement.

For the study, the researchers developed the drug-delivery technology used in the experiments. Three types of tests were conducted, each addressing a different symptom of COVID-19. First, they demonstrated the enzyme's anti-inflammatory effects and its ability to regulate the production of cytokines, a protein that is produced in white blood cells. Cytokines are an important part of the human immune system, but they can also signal the immune system to attack the body's own cells if too many are made, a so-called "cytokine storm" that is reported in some patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

Second, the team showed that catalase can protect alveolar cells, which line the human lungs, from damage due to oxidation. Finally, the experiments showed that catalase can repress the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in rhesus macaques, a type of monkey, without noticeable toxicity, according to the study.

“There is a lot of focus on vaccines and antiviral drugs, and rightly so," said Yunfeng Lu, PhD, senior author of the study and a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, in a statement. "In the meantime, our research suggests this enzyme could offer a very effective therapeutic solution for treatment of hyperinflammation that occurs due to SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as hyperinflammation generally.”

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