UConn Health is trying to fight the impacts of COVID-19 on senior citizens by studying a drug that could improve the overall health of people over age 65.
"The vulnerability of older adults to severe COVID is really striking," said Dr. George Kuchel, director of the UConn Center on Aging.
Kuchel is a doctor of geriatric medicine at UConn Health, leading research into new medications that could help lessen the effects of COVID-19 on seniors.
"We’re actually testing a drug that has been shown to slow biological aging in different situations and boost the immune responses that normally decline with aging," Kuchel explained.
He said COVID-19's impact on senior citizens is strikingly more severe than other age populations, particularly in older men, because of how the immune system ages.
The respiratory disease can create muscle weakness that leads to challenges in walking and even impact brain function.
"For somebody who is 65 years or older, the likelihood of developing severe COVID and requiring hospitalization or even dying is more than 100 fold greater than for somebody under the age of 65," Kuchel said.
UConn Health and Harvard are studying a drug that could prevent the virus from taking such a severe toll on the bodies of older patients by making them stronger before infection.
The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and is entirely virtual, with patients receiving medication or placebo by mail and all interviews done by phone.
"It's all done remotely. And really, the goal here is to prevent them from developing severe COVID, to remain healthy when exposed to COVID," Kuchel said.
He sai the medicine, if successful, would be an ideal companion to the recently announced COVID-19 vaccines. He said because vaccines tend to be more effective in younger populations, any assistance in helping senior citizens fight COVID-19 before infection could prove live-saving.
"We don’t know what the pathogen will be. We do know that other pathogens will come. And we do know that older adults will be vulnerable. So this kind of approach has the additional attraction of being effective regardless of what the infection is," he said.
UConn Health is seeking 100 participants for the trial. If this trial is successful, it will expand to a larger, nationwide clinical trial.
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