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Big data identifies melatonin as potential COVID-19 treatment


A new study, led by Cleveland Clinic and published in PLOS Biology, has found that melatonin may be a viable treatment option for COVID-19.

COVID-19 has led to millions of deaths worldwide since its emergence late last year. The research community has been hard at work attempting to dissect this virus and its pathophysiological mechanisms. To date, there are no effective therapies to treat the virus. However, major efforts are still ongoing to develop safe and effective treatments and vaccines, with promising results emerging. Such drugs being explored include SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies, novel nucleoside analogues and repurposed drugs. Currently, repurposing drugs for new therapeutic purposes is the most efficient and cost-effective approach to treat or prevent the virus.

Novel AI platform

In this study, researchers utilised a novel artificial intelligence platform to identify possible drugs for COVID-19 repurposing. The platform specifically quantified the association of COVID-19 with other diseases across six categories. These included autoimmune, malignant cancer, cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological and pulmonary diseases. The analyses were based on the notions that (1) the proteins that functionally associate with disease are localised in the corresponding subnetwork within the comprehensive human PPI network and (2) proteins that associate with a specific disease may be directly targeted by the virus or are in close vicinity of the target host proteins.

The team first performed network analysis. This was then followed by single-cell RNA sequencing data analysis to identify the underlying pathobiological relationships between COVID-19 and its associated comorbidities. They also used their findings, alongside existing patient data from COVID-19 patient registries, to identify and prioritise existing FDA-approved drugs as potential drug candidates.

Melatonin repurposing

They found that melatonin usage was significantly associated with a 28% reduced likelihood of a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result after adjusting for age, race, smoking history and various disease comorbidities. Interestingly, this reduced likelihood was increased to 52% for African Americans when adjusted for the same variables.

Additionally, they found that autoimmune, pulmonary and neurological diseases showed significant network proximity to SARS-CoV-2 genes/proteins. The platform also identified 34 drugs as repurposing candidates, melatonin being the main one.


These findings present an integrative network medicine platform for predicting disease manifestations associated with COVID-19. Moreover, they provide evidence to support the potential use of melatonin for COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

Feixiong Cheng, Assistant Staff in Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute and lead author on the study, stated:

“It is very important to note these findings do not suggest people should start to take melatonin without consulting their physician.

Large-scale observational studies and randomised controlled trials are critical to validate the clinical benefit of melatonin for patients with COVID-19, but we are excited about the associations put forth in this study and the opportunity to further explore them.”

Image credit: By cottonbro from Pexels

More on these topics

Big Data / Covid-19 / drug discovery

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