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New COVID-19 test anticipates disease severity


By Juliano Oliveira

A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researcher has developed a biological test in which it is possible to identify how severe COVID-19 will turn in a patient who starts presenting the virus’s first symptoms.

Dr Arutha Kulasinghe, responsible for the milestone, celebrated the fact that doctors will be able to differentiate patients that were likely to develop a severe infection and require a ventilator from those inclined to experience a milder case and self-isolation.

“This is extremely important for the triage of patients when hospitals are running near or beyond capacity,” Dr Kulasinghe said.

The researchers mapped the cell’s interactions and genes from samples of COVID-19 patients who had died.

“Using high-resolution imaging and genomic profiling, we were able to map the presence of the virus in the lungs down to the single cells present in the lung tissue.

We discovered a handful of pro-inflammatory genes which were upregulated [higher expression] in COVID-19 cases when compared with the closest pandemic virus, swine flu or H1N1, and the lungs of healthy people.”

According to Dr Kulasinghe, the pro-inflammatory genes, including one called ifi27, are an inflammatory response to defend the body from viruses and other pathogens.

“The value of measuring this biomarker, ifi27, in a nasal swab or blood sample is in triaging patients because it can tell us how severe the COVID-19 disease is as soon as the patient seeks medical help with COVID symptoms.”

Dr Kulasinghe said the researchers had measured ifi27 in asymptomatic, mild, moderate and severe COVID-19 cases.

“By spatial profiling lung tissue of COVID-19 patients who had died, we got a much deeper picture of the cellular changes driven by a viral infection and that the lungs were a source of the raised ifi27.

“This technique also allowed us to identify which cells in the lungs the virus was binding to.”

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