Pacific professor leads research team to develop new treatment for Post-COVID patients
A University of the Pacific professor with the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy is leading a research team to help patients suffering from post-COVID 19 symptoms after successfully treating a woman using technology not available at any other pharmacy school.
Professor Sachin A. Shah, who also is director of pharmacy research and education at Travis Air Force Base in nearby Fairfield, worked together with Flow Therapy, a Texas-based company that specializes in “external counterpulsation therapy," which uses a leg cuff similar to the well-known device used by physicians to check patients’ blood pressure.
The team used the technique to improve oxygen flow to the body and heart of a 38-year-old woman who was dealing with “brain fog,” fatigue, headaches, body pain and shortness of breath for months following her recovery from COVID-19.
“To our knowledge, this is the first case of using external counterpulsation therapy for Post-COVID shortness of breath, fatigue, and brain fog,” said Michael Gratch, CEO of Flow Therapy. “External counterpulsation therapy has been used for decades for the management of patients with certain types of heart disease and has been shown to improve the health of the blood vessels in the body. Since the COVID-19 virus impairs this pathway in blood vessels, it is plausible that this treatment may play a significant role in the management of Post-COVID symptoms.”
The School of Pharmacy is the only U.S. pharmacy school to have the technology to do enhanced external counterpulsation therapy research, said Shah.
Joshua Dayrit, a 2021 PharmD graduate, had the opportunity to work with Shah one-on-one on this project and said being introduced to the field of research in pharmacy has opened career interests and possibilities that can have a far-reaching impact in health care.
“I went so far out of my comfort zone,” Dayrit said. “This is something I would have never been able to participate in if I was only doing curriculum work in a classroom or working in a pharmacy. It is exciting to have been involved and see how far we came in our research.
“The fact that I was able to make an impact in this way is what is most meaningful to me.”
Because Pacific and Flow Therapy are leaders in enhanced external counterpulsation therapy—a non-invasive, FDA-approved treatment—to treat cardiac patients with similar symptoms, the team saw an opportunity to help COVID-19 patients.
Shah said research shows that enhanced external counterpulsation therapy treats chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue—symptoms also seen in “post-acute COVID-19 sequelae” or “long COVID,” when patients have persistent symptoms for weeks after testing positive for COVID-19.
“After one week, her ‘brain fog’ had improved, with shortness of breath improving after 1.5 weeks,” the team wrote about their findings. “The patient reported returning to pre-COVID health and fitness after approximately five weeks of EECP treatment. To our knowledge, this is the first case of using EECP for post-COVID shortness of breath, fatigue, and ‘brain fog.’”
Gratch said Flow Therapy excels at providing lifesaving enhanced external counterpulsation services to cardiac patients and is committed to discovering how it can help patients with long COVID.
“The data is looking very promising,” he said.
The research also hit close to home for Dayrit, who has family members and friends who had COVID-19 and are now affected by long COVID symptoms.
“This research may impact those that are closest to me, too,” he said. “I can possibly help them.”
The School of Pharmacy has partnered with Flow Therapy for the Fellowship in Industry Program to offer students individualized training and leadership development, and to work alongside faculty on breakthrough research that will give students a competitive advantage.
Shah, who helps oversee the fellowship program, said Pacific students would not get this opportunity anywhere else and it helps them develop their research and critical thinking skills and put out new science that is meaningful.
“It’s exciting to be part of this discovery and that this is the first time that this has been documented,” Shah said. “But what’s more exciting is to see that there is some hope for this patient population, and we need to work twice as hard to validate the role of EECP in Long COVID patients.”
The School of Pharmacy has been at the forefront of COVID-19 efforts, including being among the first university programs in the nation to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the community and also to be among the first institutions in the state to administer vaccines under California’s provider network, giving the university capacity to fully vaccinate every student who is enrolled on Pacific’s three campuses.