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This seaweed extract outperforms COVID-19 drug remdesivir in the lab

Remdesivir was the first major pharmaceutical breakthrough of the coronavirus pandemic: Research has found it’s able to help some patients recover faster from severe cases of the illness and may make it more likely that they survive. But a new study suggests that an extract from seaweed may outperform the drug.

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The extract, called RPI-27—found in the same type of seaweed that you might eat in sushi—helps trap the virus before it can infect human cells. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tested the extract in the cell studies, along with the blood thinner heparin, which has a similar effect.

When someone is infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, a spike-shaped protein in the virus attaches to a receptor on a human cell and then inserts its genetic material. But if another molecule with the right fit is available to act as a receptor instead of human cells, the virus can attach to it instead, trapping the virus in place as it harmlessly degrades.

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Words by Adele Peters