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Scientists find blood markers associated with Covid’s deadly consequences

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These findings reinforce the notion that Covid-19 is a disease that progresses in stages and has the ability to provide crucial information to clinicians.

Scientists from the Hull York School of Medicine have discovered “markers” in the blood of severe Covid-19 patients, paving the way for inexpensive diagnostic tests to help doctors identify people who are at risk of becoming extremely ill.

Blood samples from hospitalized Covid patients were analyzed in a study led by researchers from Hull York Medical School and the University of York’s Department of Mathematics. They discovered blood indicators linked to patients being critically ill and requiring intensive care.

The findings could lead to new methods for triaging and monitoring the risk of Covid patients, alleviating hospital load during infection outbreaks.

Researchers have been trying to figure out how and why Covid affects people so differently since the outbreak began. Even individuals in hospitals with the condition have a wide range of treatment requirements, with some requiring only additional oxygen while others requiring invasive ventilation in intensive care.

“Our study identified factors in the blood that are uniquely correlated with severe and fatal outcomes for hospitalised Covid patients,” stated main author Dr. Dimitris Lagos of Hull York Medical School at the University of York.

“These findings support the observation that Covid is a disease that develops in stages and have the potential to provide doctors with vital information, allowing them to tailor treatments according to severity of disease and identify high-risk patients early.

“Importantly, our findings could provide the basis for new tests that are feasible in any hospital as samples we used were from routine blood tests already carried out as part of standard care for Covid patients.”

The study, which was published in the journal iScience, involved testing blood samples from over 160 patients admitted to hospitals during the first and second waves of the pandemic. It was conducted in collaboration with York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester University, and four NHS Trusts in Greater Manchester.

The researchers looked at cytokines and chemokines, which are blood proteins that drive the overwhelming immune response seen in Covid patients, as well as microRNAs, which reflect the state of diseased tissues and are already known to be good indicators of severity and stage in a variety of diseases. They discovered a group of cytokines, chemokines, and microRNAs that were associated with Covid’s deadly consequences.

“Early in the pandemic, researchers observed high levels of inflammatory cytokines – molecules which adjust or alter the immune system response – in Covid patients with poor outcomes. However, this so called ‘cytokine storm’ was also present in hospitalised patients with a milder version of the disease. We set out to fine tune our knowledge of which factors in the blood correlate with severe disease with more insight and accuracy,” added the Co-Investigator of the study, Dr Nathalie Signoret.


“Our findings provide a scientific foundation for the development of blood tests that could provide doctors with vital information on which treatments will be most effective for a patient.

“The fact that this analysis could be carried out as part of already established routine clinical blood testing could provide all hospitals with better tools for triaging patients and identifying early individuals who are more likely to suffer worse outcomes.”

“This collaborative work is very exciting,” said Dr. David Yates, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Clinical Lead for Research at York and Scarborough Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, adding, “other national research projects our trust has been involved with in like the Recovery and REMAP-CAP trials, have already given us a handful of effective treatments for Covid-19. The trial goes one step further in identifying very specific features in used blood samples that would otherwise have just been thrown away. This means we might be able to target those novel treatments more effectively to those patients at the greatest risk.”

Source: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.103672

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