PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been used for about 80 years in common household products, particularly those that are stain- and water-resistant. But they have been associated with numerous health problems, including high blood pressure, thyroid disorders and specific cancers. Because they do not easily degrade, they are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” A research team from Indiana University, and the nonprofit research institute RTI International, is helping residents in four states ensure they have safe drinking water by recruiting "citizen scientists” for a study forever chemicals in private wells. The researchers will provide free testing kits to households in the states of Washington, North Carolina, Indiana and Minnesota whose drinking water comes from private wells, enabling residents to collect and provide water samples for testing. Indiana University researcher Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson says PFAS contaminants last a long time in the environment and have been found as far away as the North Pole, but little is known about where and how often they occur in private well water. With 13% of the U.S. population getting their drinking water from private wells, filling this information gap is very important to making sure everyone has access to safe drinking water, she says.
In other news, a new study suggests that significant variation in the amount of virus from person to person may be a contributing factor to inconsistent findings reported in clinical trials for antiviral COVID-19 drugs. An effective antiviral drug for COVID-19 would have significant global health benefits. However, clinical trials testing candidate drugs have produced inconsistent results, perhaps due to flaws in the way the trials are designed. Research by IU scientist Keisuke Ejima suggests that recruiting participants to randomized clinical trials shortly after their symptoms begin could reduce the number of participants required to detect significant antiviral drug effects. Ejima’s research team created simulation trials by combining clinical data with a model of the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 -- the virus that causes COVID-19 -- once it had infected a person. They found significant variation in the rate of decline in viral load between patients, which may have contributed to inconsistent results reported in non-randomized clinical trials so far. The study found that even if a drug was very effective at reducing COVID-19 viral load, a randomized clinical trial would need to enroll an unreasonably large number of people in both the experimental and control groups to detect statistically significant differences in viral load. However, when the researchers altered their simulated trials so that participants were treated within one day of the onset of their symptoms, they found that a much smaller number of participants was needed for each group. This suggests that randomized clinical trials for COVID-19 drugs could be improved by enrolling participants as soon as possible after symptoms appear, or by setting enrollment criteria based on the time that has passed since symptom onset. The researchers note that future studies could employ more detailed models of SARS-CoV-2 dynamics to produce more reliable calculations of the numbers of participants needed for randomized clinical trials to produce consistent results.