The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: Bald Men at Risk, ACE2 Drug, Amazon 'Distance Assistant'

Victoria Giardina

Disclosures

June 19, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

This week in COVID-19 news, researchers suggested that baldness is a sign of higher risk for severe disease, a biotech company is trialing a therapy inspired by the virus' effect on ACE2 receptors, and Amazon debuted a novel method to encourage safe social distancing. But you didn't see these headlines on Medscape Medical News. Here's why.

Bald Men At Risk

Androgenetic alopecia — male pattern baldness — may be associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms, researchers suggest in a recent article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. They named their finding the "Gabrin sign" after the first physician to die of COVID-19 in the United States, Frank Gabrin, DO, who they say "suffered from androgenetic alopecia." In their study of 122 men and 53 women admitted to three Madrid hospitals with COVID-19, they found that 79% of the men had some alopecia, while they estimate the prevalence in the general population would be 31%-53%. The researchers write that their findings are "further epidemiologic evidence that androgen sensitivity might be associated with severe symptoms leading to hospitalization due to COVID-19," and propose that the "Gabrin sign" could identify patients at high risk for such symptoms.

The headlines that linked baldness with severe COVID-19 claimed that hair loss increases the risk for a severe respiratory infection, which isn't quite what the researchers found. They did not compare outcomes for patients with and without alopecia, and they acknowledge the lack of a control group or information about patient outcomes as limitations of their study. Medscape Medical News has previously reported on the hypothesis that androgens may explain why men are more susceptible to severe outcomes from COVID-19 than women, but we didn't cover this report because it didn't add more convincing support for the androgen hypothesis than exists already. 

ACE2-Inspired Drug

Boston-based biotech company Constant Therapeutics will soon begin clinical trials of its experimental intravenous drug TXA127 as a potential therapy for COVID-19, STAT News reports. TXA127 is a pharmaceutical version of angiotensin-(1-7), which scientists previously proposed could help protect against lung damage.

Although the approach may have promise, and the prospect of any new therapy to help COVID-19 patients is exciting, clinical trials are just beginning. There's not yet evidence that the experimental drug is effective in protecting the lungs from severe COVID-19 symptoms. We didn't want to get our readers' hopes up or spend their limited time and attention on the beginning of a trial, so we didn't write about this approach. 

Amazon's "Distance Assistant"

After workers at Amazon warehouses protested about their working conditions during the pandemic, the company has developed a "Distance Assistant" — a new tool that Amazon says uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to encourage proper social distancing among company employees. With its new tool, the tech titan established live-video monitors that "show if associates are within 6 feet of one another," according to the company blog. Individuals who are 6 feet apart are highlighted with green circles on the monitor, while employees who are closer together are shown in red circles.

The Distance Assistant is an interesting tactic to encourage social distancing for the purposes of minimizing COVID-19 cases, but it's not clear how effective the technology will be in slowing the virus' spread. We didn't think we needed to draw our readers' attention to it. 

Victoria Giardina is Medscape's editorial intern. She has previously written for The Dr. Oz Show and is currently a national lifestyle writer for Her Campus. She can be reached at vgiardina@webmd.net or on Twitter @VickyRGiardina.

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