- Researchers from the UK and Germany have developed a breakthrough coronavirus blood test that could help to save more lives.
- By studying the different levels of 27 proteins in the blood, scientists could predict the prognosis of COVID-19 cases with high accuracy.
- Additional clinical trials are needed to validate the results. If successful, the new blood test might warn doctors that patients are more likely to experience complications or die and help them decide on therapies that can prevent negative outcomes more quickly.
Compared to the early months of the pandemic, doctors have various tools at their disposal that can prevent severe COVID-19 cases and save more lives. But the novel coronavirus death toll continues to increase, as millions of people contract the illness around the world each week. COVID-19 transmission is at an all-time high in the northern hemisphere, including the US, Europe, and other places, just as several nations are preparing COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. The vaccines can be used to prevent severe coronavirus complications that can lead to death, but they won’t work on infected people.
People will likely continue to get infected even after vaccine-based herd immunity is reached, as experts anticipate that COVID-19 will become endemic like the flu. That’s why the world needs even better therapies to reduce the risk of complications further and save even more lives. Various teams are already studying new COVID-19 therapies that are showing promise in early trials. But it might be a different breakthrough that could help doctors save lives in the near future, regardless of whether new drugs are approved or not.
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Researchers from the UK and Germany have devised a blood test that can predict a patient’s chances of survival. They found that changes in 27 proteins in the blood of COVID-19 patients could be used as a complex signature for predicting COVID-19 severity.
If validated via further work, the new blood test could be used to determine which COVID-19 patients are most likely to develop life-threatening complications. This could help doctors allocate resources to the people who need it most, especially in regions where medical health systems are overwhelmed. Certain drug therapies could be started earlier to prevent complications, and at-risk patients might be moved to the ICU earlier to increase their chances.
“Every day counts with severe Covid, and those people who need intensive care need to get it as soon as possible because this greatly increases their chances of survival,” Markus Ralser told The Guardian. Ralser is a professor of biochemistry at the Francis Crick Institute in London and Charité University Medicine in Berlin, and he and his team identified the 27 proteins that should be observed to predict COVID-19 prognosis.
The proteins were measures using a mass spectrometer. This allowed the scientists to determine the presence and abundance of hundreds of thousands of proteins in a blood sample based on their mass. Also known as proteomic analysis, the test allows scientists to measure more proteins than regular clinical assays. In turn, this test can offer more insight into the evolution of coronavirus cases.
The report notes the test has been validated in a test involving 24 severely ill patients. It predicted the outcome for 18 of 19 patients who survived and for five patients of five who died.
“We can predict which patients will need oxygen support and ventilator support quite accurately, and we also have markers for patients who are not that severely ill initially but are at high risk of getting worse,” said Ralser.
Further clinical trials will follow in the UK, US, and Germany to determine whether the test really works. Health regulators would have to approve the tests before they can be available more widely. This new blood test for proteins might prove to be a game-changer in other illnesses down the road, not just COVID-19. The Guardian notes that other teams are looking at predicting prognoses for cancer, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases with proteomic tests.
A researcher not involved in the study noted one important limitation they’ll have to account for. The blood test was devised early in the pandemic at a time when dexamethasone wasn’t a routinely used medicine to temper the exacerbated immune response that occurs in severe cases. Dexamethasone is now a standard of care for severe COVID-19 and might impact the protein markers at this point in the pandemic.
Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he’s not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.