Protein biomarkers in COVID-19 patients' blood could predict disease severity and save lives, study says

Protein biomarkers in the blood of COVID-19 patients could be used to predict the severity of the disease and potentially save lives, according to researchers in Germany and the U.K.

Scientists at the hospital Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Francis Crick Institute in London have identified biological characteristics in the blood that could help predict the progression of COVID-19 and its degree of severity in patients.

Researchers used mass spectrometry to analyze patients’ proteomes, or sets of proteins, in biological material. Blood plasma samples were analyzed from 31 men and women who were receiving treatment at the Charité hospital, which is also a prominent research institution. The patients’ symptoms had varying degrees of severity.

THESE INDICATORS IN A PATIENT'S BLOOD COULD HELP DETERMINE HOW SICK THEY MIGHT GET FROM COVID-19, STUDY FINDS

“The researchers were able to identify 27 proteins in the blood which varied in quantity depending on disease severity,” they explained in a statement. “The researchers then validated these molecular signatures by analyzing samples from another group of 17 COVID-19 patients and 15 healthy people. Protein expression signatures were able to precisely classify patients according to the World Health Organization's coding criteria for COVID-19.”

Researchers used mass spectrometry to identify biomarker profiles in blood that can be used to classify disease severity and progression in patients with COVID-19.

Researchers used mass spectrometry to identify biomarker profiles in blood that can be used to classify disease severity and progression in patients with COVID-19. (Photo: Arne Sattler/Charité)

Some 186,522 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in Germany, where the disease has accounted for at least 8,748 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

"These results lay the foundations for two very different applications. One possible future use would be for disease prognosis," said Dr. Markus Ralser, director of Charité's Institute of Biochemistry, who led the research, in the statement. "An early blood test would enable the treating physician to predict whether or not a patient with COVID-19 will develop severe symptoms. This could potentially save lives: the sooner physicians know which patients will require intensive care, the faster they can make use of the available treatment options."

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"Another possible future use would be as an in-hospital diagnostic test, which could provide clarity regarding a patient's condition — regardless of how they themselves describe it," added Ralser, who is also a group leader at the Francis Crick Institute. "In some cases, a patient's symptoms do not appear to provide an accurate picture of their true health status. An objective evaluation, based on their biomarker profile, could be extremely valuable in this regard."

Researchers are now planning to test their method with a larger number of patients, which they hope will bring them closer to developing a diagnostic test. The research has been published in the journal Cell Systems.

A separate COVID-19 research project in China has also been examining specific biological markers in blood in an effort to gain insight into the disease and its progression.

BLOOD MARKERS MAY HELP IDENTIFY WHICH CHILDREN DEVELOP SEVERE KAWASAKI-ILLNESS: REPORT

In a recent project in the U.K., researchers identified blood markers that could help identify which children develop severe Kawasaki-like inflammatory disease.

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As of Wednesday morning, over 7.2 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, with over 1.9 million of them in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins. The disease has accounted for at least 411,953 deaths around the world, including at least 112,006 in the U.S.

Fox News’ Madeline Farber and Nick Givas contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers