Testing the blood of coronavirus patients could help identify those who are at the greatest risk of severe illness from the virus and in need of a ventilator, according to a new study published by the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
The research may lead to a new treatment to prevent deadly “cytokine storms,” a term for when cytokines, a protein produced by immune cells, causes an acute immune system overreaction in severe cases of COVID-19 and save lives, according to a report by UVAToday, the University of Virgina’s news site.
“The immune response that we discovered to predict severe shortness of breath in COVID-19 is known in other pulmonary diseases to cause damage. So this could lead to a novel way to prevent respiratory failure in individuals infected with the new coronavirus, by inhibiting this immune cytokine,” Dr Bill Petri, a physician at the University’s Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health told UVAToday.
“We plan to test this in a model of COVID-19 prior to considering a clinical trial,” he added.
The research found that high levels of a particular cytokine, IL-13, was associated with a worse coronavirus outcome regardless of other patient factors, such as gender, age or preexisting health problems.
Two other cytokines were also associated with more severe outcomes but were less useful in predicting if a patient would need a ventilator.
Finally, two other cytokines were found in significantly higher levels in patients with high blood pressure, which has the potential for being one reason why diabetes has been named as a key risk factor in worse coronavirus outcomes.
The researchers used data from 57 coronavirus patients that were treated at the University of Virginia and ultimately required a ventilator and then compared blood results with patients that did not need a ventilator.
Other research has been conducted on the role that blood can play in the coronavirus pandemic.
In early June, research conducted by biotech testing company 23andMe suggested that a person’s blood type can dictate how likely they are to catch the coronavirus. People with O blood type better protected against the coronavirus, compared to other blood types, and are between 9 and 18 percent less likely to test positive for COVID-19.