Vitamin C and Covid-19: Associate Professor Anitra Carr

Anitra Carr is an associate professor at the Nutrition in Medicine Research Group, based at the University of Otago. Her research speciality is Vitamin C.

Can you briefly describe your work in this area? 

We are interested in the link between vitamin C and severe infections, such as pneumonia and sepsis, both of which are major complications of COVID-19. We have found that patients with pneumonia and sepsis have very low levels of vitamin C in their blood and a high prevalence of vitamin C deficiency, which suggests they have much higher requirements for the vitamin. 

In patients with pneumonia and sepsis we have also found high levels of oxidative stress, an imbalance between the generation of reactive oxygen species in the body and the ability of antioxidants to combat this. As vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, this elevated oxidative stress could be both a cause and a consequence of the low vitamin C levels in these patients.

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We have also initiated two clinical trials in patients with pneumonia and sepsis at Christchurch Hospital. In these trials the patients will receive either vitamin C or a placebo control to determine if vitamin C administration to the patients will decrease their symptoms and improve their outcomes compared with the placebo control.

Why is it important we keep funding Vitamin C related research?

There is a lot of misinformation about vitamin C due to many studies being carried out inappropriately and as a result showing no effect of the vitamin, primarily due to faulty study design. Furthermore, over the past decade completely new functions for vitamin C have been discovered and these new mechanistic rationales need to be integrated into well-designed clinical studies. 

However, it is very difficult to obtain funding to carry out clinical research related to nutrients such as vitamin C. This is why it is important that organisations such as the CMRF continue to support vitamin C-related research, particularly since preliminary findings from around the world look very encouraging. 

How has funding from Canterbury Medical Research Foundation impacted your work?

Funding from the CMRF helped me to become an independent researcher by providing initial support for my clinical research until I was able to obtain major research funding from the Health Research Council. I am now the director of a research group at UOC, the Nutrition in Medicine Research Group, however, I am still completely dependent upon obtaining ongoing grant funding in order to continue with my research programme.

Medical research is absolutely vital to the health and prosperity of New Zealand and New Zealanders. Although there have not been enough COVID-19 cases in NZ hospitals to carry out clinical studies with these patients, there is still a lot of related biomedical and clinical research that is important to carry out in case of future viral outbreaks. The CMRF is able to fund small biomedical projects and contribute to the cost of running larger clinical studies.

For more Covid-19 related news click here

To read more about Anitra’s CMRF funded work click here

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