Research Team Explores Cystic Fibrosis for COVID-19 Treatment

United States

A team of HJF investigators is studying the causes of COVID-19 and potential treatments. Titled “COVID-19 Airway Inflammation Is Due to Spike Inhibition of CFTR Signaling,” the work will make it possible to pursue new therapies for COVID-19 by furthering our understanding of the CFTR protein that is related to cystic fibrosis.

Dr Harvey Pollard
Harvey Pollard, M.D., Ph.D.


The research team, led by Harvey Pollard, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Genetics at the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences (USU), has been studying cystic fibrosis for decades. “When patients are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the body experiences a cytokine storm that is very similar to the type we see in patients who have cystic fibrosis,” said Pollard, referring to the severe immune reaction when the body releases too many cytokines into the blood too quickly. “This led us to further explore this connection.”

Most antibodies for COVID-19 attempt to block the first point of contact between the virus and a cellular receptor protein in the lungs, which adversely affects the CFRP protein. Pollard and his research team recently identified several cardioglycoside drugs (digitoxin, ouabin, and digoxin) that also block this interaction.

To learn more about these cardioglycoside drugs, the research team analyzed data from patients. “We discovered that it was thus possible that the more potent digitoxin or ouabain might provide even better clinical protection from COVID-19,” said Pollard.

The grant will also support further tests of whether these drugs will protect hamsters (the best animal model for studying COVID-19 in humans) from either acute infection with SARS-CoV-2 virus or the lengthy post-infection disorder known as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), which is also known as Long COVID.

About HJF

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF), now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is a global nonprofit organization with the mission to advance military medicine. HJF’s scientific, administrative and program operations services empower investigators, clinicians, and medical researchers around the world to make discoveries in all areas of medicine. HJF serves as a trusted and responsive link between the military medical community, federal and private partners, and the millions of warfighters, veterans, and civilians who benefit from military medicine. For more information, visit