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Blood-Based Biomarker Test Could Identify Patients at High Risk of Severe COVID-19

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 08 Dec 2021
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Image: Blood-Based biomarker test could identify patients at high risk of severe COVID-19 (Photo courtesy of WEHI)
Image: Blood-Based biomarker test could identify patients at high risk of severe COVID-19 (Photo courtesy of WEHI)

Researchers have discovered a biomarker that could assist in the early identification of people at high risk of developing severe COVID-19.

Led by computational researchers from The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI; Parkville, Australia), the study used advanced spatial transcriptomic techniques to screen for genes associated with excessive inflammation in the lungs, a key indicator of severe COVID-19.

The research team collected samples from 30 patients across three groups: 10 patients with COVID-19, 10 with H1N1 influenza and 10 uninfected. The research team was able to generate a gene transcriptional landscape showing how different parts of the lung are impacted in each scenario. The IFI27 gene, known to be activated by the immune system in response to viruses, was found to predict disease progression and is strongly associated with disease severity. The discovery would pave the way for a diagnostic test to be developed, so patients who were at high-risk of severe COVID-19 could be triaged and treated early.

The findings have the potential to revolutionize the way patients are treated and alleviate pressure on the healthcare system. The researchers are now participating in an international effort to translate this research into a diagnostic test to identify patients at high-risk of severe COVID-19 during the early stages of their infection, to better target health-care intervention and prevent ICU admissions associated with severe disease.

“Only a limited number of biomarkers were found to be significantly upregulated in the lungs of COVID-19 patients, compared to patients with influenza. The presence of the IFI27 gene was a reliable prediction of severe lung inflammation,” said Dr. Chin Wee Tan. “Our multi-cohort follow up study, has shown that expression of the IFI27 biomarker in COVID-19 patients can predict disease progression and is strongly associated with disease severity."

“When a patient presents to a clinic, we could assess how severe their symptoms will become by measuring the IF127 levels in the blood - regardless of the symptoms they’re presenting,” added Associate Professor Melissa Davis.

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