THURSDAY, April 9, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) are enrolling patients in an international clinical trial to find out if inhaled nitric oxide benefits those with novel coronavirus (COVID-19) who have severely damaged lungs.

Right now, there are no approved treatments for the illness caused by COVID-19. The severe form of lung failure — acute respiratory distress syndrome — is the leading cause of death in COVID-19. Nitric oxide has been found to improve blood flow in areas of the lungs still receiving air, increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood stream.

Along with being used to treat failing lungs, nitric oxide has been found to have antiviral properties against coronaviruses. That was shown during the 2002 to 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, which was caused by a coronavirus similar to the one that causes COVID-19. Any COVID-19 patient in UAB’s intensive care unit who is using a ventilator to breathe may qualify for the study.

“This trial will allow the sickest COVID-19 patients at UAB access to a rescue therapy that may have antiviral benefits in addition to improving the status of lungs,” Vibhu Parcha, M.D., research fellow in the UAB Division of Cardiovascular Disease, said in a university news release.

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