What follows is a free translation of a piece written by Noemí Rodríguez González for Conexión Cinvestav. Noemí interviewed me over a Covid 19 project prepared at the invitation of the State of Hidalgo by Nils Schuth, Liliana Quintanar, Erika Garay & myself, which was accepted by the Paul Scherrer Institute‘s synchrotron amongst five. The poster below was kindly prepared by José Eduardo García Ramírez. Thanks go to Omar Fayad (Hidalgo’s State Governor), Lamán Carranza & Juan García who support the project to build a synchrotron in Mexico.
In May, The Lancet published an article, retracted a few days ago, that recommended to avoid hydroxychloroquine as a treatment against Covid 19. On the other hand, a clinical study of patients admitted to New York hospitals offers evidence that this drug requires, in order to show positive results, co-administration of zinc. Zinc is essential for the immune system to function properly.
It is known that chloroquine induces transport of this metal into cells in culture, which is why we felt it was relevant to test whether its synthetic analogue, hydroxychloroquine, alters zinc storage at the level of a complete organism, said Fanis Missirlis from Cinvestav’s Department of Physiology, Biophysics and Neuroscience.
In this context, the researcher works on a project to evaluate whether hydroxychloroquine, used against malaria, lupus and athritis, causes retention of zinc in a fruit fly model (Drosophila melanogaster). This, in collaboration with Nils Schuth and Liliana Quintanar from the Chemistry Department and with Erika Garacy from Physiology, Biophysics and Neuroscience (Cinvestav).
The proposal entitled “Effect of the Covid-19 drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine on systemic zinc storage” was amongst the accepted ones in the “Call for access to Synchrotron beam time to combad Covid 19”, jointly supported by the State of Hidalgo in collaboration with the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland.
The project consists of administering hydroxychloroquine for three days to a group of fruit fly larvae that are unable to store zinc; these are a model of patients with systemic zinc deficiency that may be susceptible to develop the serious form of the disease Covid 19.
From these larvae, the Malpighian tubules are dissected out (these are the excretory organ of the fly and the organ that stores excess zinc in this animal). Once dried and frozen, the samples will be sent to Switzerland, where the staff scientists that work permanently at the Synchrotron (Swiss Light Source) will carry out the measurements.
The technique consists of applying high energy X-rays on the samples, then the obtained XANES spectra will be sent back to the Mexican scientists (with information on the chemical environment of zinc and a quantification of the metal in situ). The interpretation of the results follows.
The information obtained is useful to identify whether hydroxychloroquine leads to zinc accumulation in flies that were otherwise incapable to do so. Reference spectra have been previously obtained from other Synchrotrons around the world, on tissues from wild type flies with normal zinc storage, which represent the patients whose immune systems could successfully fight off the infection with the new coronarivus.
Discussing the implications of the project, Fanis Missirlis referred to a recent investigation, where two groups of Covid 19 patients were administered alike hydroxychloroquine and azythromycin (an antibiotic), but one group additionally received zinc.
Amongst the results, the most impressive finding was that the probability to die for those who received the combination of hydroxychloroquine, azythromycin and zinc was 44% less in comparison to those who only received hydroxychloroquine and azythromycin.
Thus, in view of this combination of drugs being administered in patients and that the WHO announced that it would resume trials with hydroxychloroquine, it is necessary to evaluate whether zinc influences the effectiveness of this treatment, metioned Fanis Missirlis.
Cinvestav’s specialist added that this type of studies are examples of basic research that can turn useful to biomedicine or to back up the scientific evidence for applying a specific treatment, especially in the context of a health emergency.