Melatonin eyed as possible coronavirus treatment, study suggests

Melatonin could possibly have more use than just aiding in a good night’s sleep. A new study from the Cleveland Clinic suggests the hormone could be a possible treatment option for those infected with the novel coronavirus.

In an analysis of patient data from the Cleveland Clinic’s COVID-19 registry, researchers found that melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle, was “associated with a nearly 30% reduced likelihood of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 after adjusting for age, race, smoking history and various disease comorbidities,” according to a news release accompanying the study published in the journal PLOS Biology. (SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.) 

Melatonin could possibly have more use than just aiding in a good night’s sleep. A new study from the Clevland Clinic suggests the hormone could be a possible treatment option for those infected with the novel coronavirus. (iStock)

The findings on melatonin were derived from a “novel artificial intelligence platform developed by Lerner Research Institute researchers to identify possible drugs for COVID-19 repurposing,” per the release.

More specifically, the researchers in the study “harnessed network medicine methodologies and large-scale electronic health records from Cleveland Clinic patients to identify clinical manifestations and pathologies common between COVID-19 and other diseases.”

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Specifically, “they measured the proximity between host genes/proteins and those well-associated with 64 other diseases across several disease categories (malignant cancer and autoimmune, cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological and pulmonary diseases), where closer proximity indicates a higher likelihood of pathological associations between the diseases.” 

For instance, in severe cases, respiratory distress syndrome and sepsis have been identified as two main causes of death in COVID-19 patients. The proteins associated with these two conditions “were highly connected with multiple SARS-CoV-2 proteins,” the researchers found. 

“This signals to us, then, that a drug already approved to treat these respiratory conditions may have some utility in also treating COVID-19 by acting on those shared biological targets,” explained Feixiong Cheng, Ph.D., assistant staff in Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute and lead author on the study, in a statement. 

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By the end, the researchers found that autoimmune, pulmonary and neurological diseases “showed significant network proximity to SARS-CoV-2 genes/proteins and identified 34 drugs as repurposing candidates, melatonin chief among them.” 

That said, Cheng warned that the researchers’ findings “do not suggest people should start to take melatonin without consulting their physician.” 

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More research is needed, specifically large-scale observational studies and randomized controlled trials, Cheng said, noting they are “critical to validate the clinical benefit of melatonin for patients with COVID-19.” 

“Recent studies suggest that COVID-19 is a systematic disease impacting multiple cell types, tissues and organs, so knowledge of the complex interplays between the virus and other diseases is key to understanding COVID-19-related complications and identifying repurposable drugs,” said Cheng. “Our study provides a powerful, integrative network medicine strategy to predict disease manifestations associated with COVID-19 and facilitate the search for an effective treatment.”