Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) are studying whether inhaling a gas called nitric oxide can help treat patients with COVID-19, or even prevent people from getting the disease.
Although nitric oxide is widely used to treat patients with respiratory failure, MGH is the only hospital in the United States, and one of the few in the world, studying it for the treatment of COVID-19, according to the CDC. (MGH is conducting one of the studies in cooperation with teams in Alabama and Louisiana.)
Nitric oxide is a colorless gas, not to be confused with “nitrous oxide,” better known as laughing gas, or “nitrogen dioxide,” a smoggy brown air pollutant.
The human body makes nitric oxide on its own, and uses it as a chemical messenger. Low levels of nitric oxide constrict blood vessels; higher levels dilate them, increasing blood flow. When patients inhale it through a face mask or mechanical ventilator, it can open airways and help them breathe better.
Libby Hohmann, a physician in the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, calls nitric oxide “a favorite of MGH.”