CLEVELAND — The last 17 months haven't been easy for many of us.
The pandemic altered our world in dozens of ways, but there are some silver linings, especially in the medical field. These come as a result of the technology inspired by pandemic need.
We learned to do so much at home, including visiting our doctors. Telemedicine is here to stay, and will help us take better control of our health.
But the mRNA technology of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is the real game changer.
"There's no reason to think that you can't use the immune system in the same capacity that we're using it now to combat COVID against other invaders that shouldn't be there," Dr. Gilbert Palmer, COO of Mercy Health Lorain, said.
Here’s how it works: mRNA vaccines are created by copying COVID's genetic code (RNA) from its distinctive spike. This messenger RNA gives your cells a recipe to make the spikes of the coronavirus, and those spikes cause your immune system to kick in and destroy them.
You don't get sick, because it’s not the actual virus. What's left over? Memory cells, so when the real COVID shows up, those cells remember how to make the antibodies to protect you.
The benefit? These vaccines can be made much faster than traditional ones. The technology is bringing hope to the fight against diseases.
"I look optimistically at the next five to 10 years that so many of chronic diseases that we're managing, that would have been death sentences, to be nothing more than a couple of shots," Gilbert told 3News.
Hope for many diseases, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, even the lasting effects of COVID.
"I have brain fog sometimes," 17-year-old Drew Coffey says. "I can't sleep at night, anxiety, acid reflux and things like that."
Coffey is part of University Hospitals' new "long-hauler" clinic. He tested positive in January with a case he described as mild, but the symptoms never went away. For now, he can't go to school, and no one knows when he'll feel better.
"I think that's the scariest thing," Drew admitted. "We'd ask a bunch of questions, and they'd say, 'It's too new for us to know anything.'"
"There's so much money being poured into COVID right now, and with that COVID long-haul, there's a lot of research starting to open up," Dr. Amy Edwards, infectious disease expert at UH's Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, explained.
Not only could that research help those dealing with the lingering virus effects, but may also help people with other conditions. For example, Sierra Prindle waited seven years for a diagnosis to discover her calf muscle slipped and was crushing her artery in her leg.
"I went through hundreds of tests and it was the same test over and over," she said. "At first I felt like the first team of doctors I was using were just focusing on one thing and not branching out. If we had research on this, it could have been as easy as, 'This girl has left calf pain, let's do this.' That would help somebody in the future."
"If we can figure it out with COVID, not just what causes it but what works to make these people better, then maybe we can start to extrapolate that to some of those other illnesses, and those patients can start to get the help that they've needed for years and we've neglected to give them," Edwards added.
It may take years before we start seeing COVID-inspired treatments targeting other illnesses. However, the fallout from the pandemic definitely opened scientific minds and funding resources, which could very well eventually save more lives than the virus claimed.