Press Release April 28, 2020 ABC News
Update: Trial Registered July 22
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) College of Medicine scientists and clinicians, led by vitamin D research experts Bruce Hollis, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Pediatrics, and Carol Wagner, M.D., a professor in the Department of Pediatrics and neonatologist, are planning a research effort to determine if individuals with sufficient baseline levels of vitamin D have more protection against severe COVID-19 infection.
Hollis and Wagner have more than 60 years of combined vitamin D research experience, with a collective body of work referenced and replicated across the spectrum by institutions such as Harvard University and the National Institutes of Health. They have accrued thousands of citations and have been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals on various subtopics around vitamin D deficiency and sufficiency.
MUSC scientists point out that recent COVID-19 and vitamin D studies suggest that at-risk individuals with historically low levels of vitamin D also had increased severity of COVID-19 infection and worse clinical outcomes, especially if the viral infection reached the lower respiratory tract. Certain cells located there are known primary targets of the virus, and if affected, it becomes harder for the lungs to initiate tissue repair and rebound from an infection, thus causing acute respiratory distress and the hospitalization of patients nationwide.
In addition, effective vitamin D repletion can be accomplished safely and with minimal expense.
Hollis, Wagner and their team are rapidly pursuing clinical studies to validate or refute the clinical assumption that when patients have sufficient vitamin D levels, their immune responses to the virus’ primary targets are enabled, stronger and more capable of fighting off the most acute form of COVID-19.
“Our team has the ability to determine vitamin D levels for COVID-19-positive patients and track that information to begin this work. This area of study is worthy of their expertise and efforts,” said David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, MUSC president. “This is a great opportunity to raise awareness that this due diligence is needed so we can potentially help particularly vulnerable populations in our community.”
While MUSC is not suggesting that vitamin D cures or prevents COVID-19 infection, officials say the body of prior and emerging scientific evidence would suggest that individuals with low vitamin D levels who contract COVID-19, including African Americans and elderly nursing home residents, might experience worse clinical outcomes than other groups with normal vitamin D levels.
“It is important to study this topic to determine if recommending vitamin D supplementation for vulnerable populations can make a difference in COVID-19 outcomes. If valid,” Cole explained, “we would have an inexpensive, readily available strategy not only to help these groups of individuals but also the general population of South Carolina and beyond.”
The team seeks to replicate recent findings related to COVID-19 and vitamin D deficiency and explore the idea that patients might need to reach sufficient vitamin D levels through the appropriate clinical standard dosing of IV or oral supplements or, in some cases, simply get more exposure to sunlight.
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