As several coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine trials show promise, a new Cleveland Clinic study has shown that melatonin, which can regulate your sleep cycle and is a common sleep aid, could be a potential treatment option for patients with the virus.
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The study comes from Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute and focused on the repurposing of drugs that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved for new therapeutic uses, citing both efficiency and low costs.
Published in PLOS Biology, the study used two approaches that led to the finding and cross-referenced them, leading to a potentially key breakthrough in COVID-19 treatment.
Artificial Intelligence finds potential paths to treatment
First, an artificial intelligence platform developed by researchers at Learner compared the proximity between the host genes and proteins of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, to that of 64 other diseases across a range of disease categories.
That data enabled researchers to find conditions with similar protein proximities to COVID-19 that already had drugs approved for treatment. Those drugs, the researchers propose, could possibly be used to treat COVID-19.
For example, researchers noticed that proteins associated with respiratory distress syndrome and sepsis, two main causes of death in patients with severe COVID-19, were highly connected to multiple SARS-CoV-2 proteins.
According to the study’s lead author, Feixiong Cheng, PhD, “That tells us that a drug that’s approved to treat those conditions may be capable of treating COVID-19 by acting on those shared biological targets.”
In all, researchers found 34 drugs as potential repurposing candidates including some, like the antibiotic azithromycin and the iron reducer deferoxamine, that are already being studied in COVID-19 clinical trials. And, yes, the list included melatonin.
Dr. Cheng points out that since COVID-19 “is a systematic disease impacting multiple cell types, tissues and organs,” those potentially complex connections between it and other diseases is essential to understanding complications caused by COVID-19 and those potentially repurposable drugs.
Real patient data connects the dots
Researchers took that information and combined it with data collected from nearly 27,000 patients in Cleveland Clinic’s COVID-19 registry. The results? After adjusting for age, race, smoking history and various disease comorbidities, melatonin usage was associated with a 28% reduced likelihood of a positive COVID-19 test.
And when applying the same variable adjustments to African-Americans in the registry, the reduced likely increased to 52%. That’s an especially promising sign as African-Americans have been hit particularly hard by the virus.
Still a lot of work to do
That’s not to say this association between melatonin, which you can buy over-the-counter at any pharmacy, and COVID-19 is a sure thing. Nor does it mean you should up your melatonin intake immediately. There’s still a lot of research left to do.
Says Dr. Cheng, “It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean people should start taking melatonin without first consulting with their health care provider. We’re excited about these results and to study that connection more, but large-scale observational studies and randomized controlled trials are essential to confirm what we’ve found here.”