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The billions of dollars invested in covid vaccines and covid-19 research so far are expected to yield medical and scientific dividends for decades, helping doctors battle influenza, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and far more diseases.

“This is just the start,” said Dr. Judith James, vice president of clinical affairs for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. “We won’t see these dividends in their full glory for years.”

James hopes that computer technology used to detect covid will improve the treatment of other diseases. For example, researchers have shown that cellphone apps can help detect potential covid cases by monitoring patients’ self-reported symptoms. James said she wonders if the same technology could predict flare-ups of autoimmune diseases.

We never dreamed we could have a PCR test that could be done anywhere but a lab,” James said. “Now we can do them at a patient’s bedside in rural Oklahoma. That could help us with rapid testing for other diseases.”

According to the story published by California Healthline, building on the success of mRNA vaccines for covid, scientists hope to create mRNA-based vaccines against a host of pathogens, including influenza, Zika, rabies, HIV, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which hospitalizes 3 million children under age 5 each year worldwide.

Researchers see promise in mRNA to treat cancer, cystic fibrosis, and rare, inherited metabolic disorders, although potential therapies are still many years away.

Pfizer and Moderna worked on mRNA vaccines for cancer long before they developed covid shots. Researchers are now running dozens of clinical trials of therapeutic mRNA vaccines for pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, and melanoma, which frequently responds well to immunotherapy.

Ambitious scientific endeavors have provided technological windfalls for consumers in the past; the race to land on the moon in the 1960s led to the development of CT scanners and MRI machines, freeze-dried food, wireless headphones, water purification systems, and the computer mouse.

Likewise, funding for AIDS research has benefited patients with a variety of diseases, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. Studies of HIV led to the development of better drugs for hepatitis C and cytomegalovirus, or CMV; paved the way for successful immunotherapies in cancer; and speeded the development of covid vaccines.

Over the past two years, medical researchers have generated more than 230,000 medical journal articles, documenting studies of vaccines, antivirals, and other drugs, as well as basic research into the structure of the virus and how it evades the immune system.

Dr. Michelle Monje, a professor of neurology at Stanford University, has found similarities in the cognitive side effects caused by covid and a side effect of cancer therapy often called “chemo brain.” Learning more about the root causes of these memory problems, Monje said, could help scientists eventually find ways to prevent or treat them.

One of the most important pandemic breakthroughs was the discovery that 15% to 20% of patients over 70 who die of covid have rogue antibodies that disable a key part of the immune system. Although antibodies normally protect us from infection, these “autoantibodies” attack a protein called interferon that acts as a first line of defense against viruses.

The discovery of interferon-targeting antibodies “certainly changed my way of thinking at a broad level,” said E. John Wherry, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Immunology, who was not involved in the studies. “This is a paradigm shift in immunology and in covid.”

For decades, public health officials created policies based on the assumption that viruses spread in one of two ways: either through the air, like measles and tuberculosis, or through heavy, wet droplets that spray from our mouths and noses, then quickly fall to the ground, like influenza.

Today it’s clear that the coronavirus – and all respiratory viruses – spread through a combination of droplets and aerosols, said Dr. Michael Klompas, a professor at Harvard Medical School and infectious disease doctor.