LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists have found 27 key proteins in the blood of people infected with COVID-19 which they say could act as predictive biomarkers for how ill a patient could become with the disease.
In research published in the journal Cell Systems on Tuesday, scientists at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute and Germany’s Charite Universitaetsmedizin Berlin found the proteins are present in different levels in COVID-19 patients, depending on the severity of their symptoms.
The markers could lead to the development of a test that would help doctors predict how ill a patient might get when infected with the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, they said, and could also provide new targets for the development of potential treatments for the disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 374,000 people worldwide and infected more than 6.7 million.
Doctors and scientists say those infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, respond differently – with some developing no symptoms at all, while others need to be hospitalised and others suffer fatal infection.
“A test to help doctors predict whether a COVID-19 patient is likely to become critical or not would be invaluable,” said Christoph Messner, an expert in molecular biology at the Crick Institute who co-led the research.
He said such tests would help doctors decide how best manage the disease for each patient, as well as identify those most at risk of needing hospital treatment or intensive care.
Messner’s team used a method called mass spectrometry to rapidly test for the presence and quantity of various proteins in blood plasma from 31 COVID-19 patients at Berlin’s Charite hospital. They then validated their results in 17 other patients with COVID-19 at the same hospital, and in 15 healthy people who acted as controls.
Three of the key proteins identified were linked with interleukin IL-6, a protein known to cause inflammation and also a known marker for severe COVID-19 symptoms.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Alexandra Hudson)