Researchers identify inflammatory molecules as potential targets for COVID-19

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Having studied blood samples from critically ill COVID-19 patients, researchers from Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University (both London, Canada) have identified a unique set of six inflammatory molecules that could be used as therapeutic targets for treating the virus. The study, published in Critical Care Explorations, is said to be the first to profile the body’s immune response to COVID-19.

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Since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year, many reports have noted the immune system’s propensity to overreact and cause cytokine storms, often among those who become critically ill with the disease.

“Clinicians have been trying to address this hyperinflammation but without evidence of what to target,” explained Douglas Fraser (Western University and London Health Sciences Center, LHSC). “Our study takes away the guessing by identifying potential therapeutic targets for the first time.”

The study enrolled 30 participants: ten COVID-19 patients and ten patients with other infections admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at LHSC, along with ten healthy control participants.

Patients’ blood was drawn daily for the first 7 days of ICU admission and then analyzed by the researchers using statistical methods and artificial intelligence.

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Upon studying 57 inflammatory molecules, the team discovered six that were uniquely elevated in COVID-19 ICU patients: tumor necrosis factor, granzyme B, heat shock protein 70, interleukin-18, interferon-gamma-inducible protein 10 and elastase 2.

Further, they were able to use inflammation profiling to predict the presence of COVID-19 in critically ill patients with 98% accuracy. They also discovered heat shock protein 70 to be strongly associated with an increased risk of death when measured in the blood early on during the illness.

“Understanding the immune response is paramount to finding the best treatments,” commented Fraser. “Our next step is to test drugs that block the harmful effects of several of these molecules while still allowing the immune system to fight the virus.”

Sources: Fraser D, Gediminas C, Marat S et al. Inflammation profiling of critically ill coronavirus disease 2019 patients. CCE doi:10.1097/CCE.0000000000000144 (2020); www.lawsonresearch.ca/study-first-identify-potential-therapeutic-targets-covid-19

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