New Blood Test May Detect Risk for Serious Symptoms in COVID-19 Patients

By Elijah Labby Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A new blood test may be able to tell COVID-19 patients their risk for serious symptoms, allowing the patient an opportunity to seek medical intervention, according to a new study published in the journal EBioMedicine.

Blood vials marked "COVID-19 Positive."

The test, developed by scientists and researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, is the first of its kind.

It uses a new measurement called the Dublin-Boston score to rank a patient’s need for supplemental treatment and aims to assist doctors in making informed decisions about their care.

According to researchers, the test can accurately predict a patient’s condition on day seven after four days of testing.

“The Dublin-Boston score is easily calculated and can be applied to all [hospitalized COVID-19] patients,” said RCSI Professor of Medicine Gerry McElvaney in an interview with SciTechDaily.

“[A] More informed prognosis could help determine when to escalate or de-escalate care, a key component of the efficient allocation of resources during the current pandemic,” he said. “The score may also have a role in evaluating whether new therapies designed to decrease inflammation in [COVID-19] actually provide benefit.”

The test measures a patient’s levels of two different cytokines, IL-6, an inflammatory molecule, and IL-10, an anti-inflammatory. By tracking the levels of these two molecules, scientists can tell an individual’s risk for infection and other complicating factors.

“IL-6 is kind of turning on the immune system, while IL-10 is one of our anti-inflammatory cytokines that tries to turn things down,” said Dr. Matt Exline, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in an interview with Yahoo Life.

“As you’re fighting an infection, the body is trying to find an even keel [between them]. If it’s too turned up, that’s bad,” said Exline, “and if it’s too turned down that’s also bad. I think the concept they identified [in the study] is an important one.”

In other words, an increase in the disparity between the levels of IL-6 and IL-10 signals an increased risk.

The scientists said that the technology needs to be further tested before widespread rollout.

“The utility of this IL-6 to IL-10 ratio would probably need to be validated in larger studies,” Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford Health Care, told Yahoo Life. “[We need to] couple the prognostic information we get from looking at this IL-6 and IL-10 ratio… with therapeutic interventions to see how really useful it is.”

McElvany added that the technology needed to perform the test is already common, so the distribution of the test, once approved, will be a simple process.

“Most labs in many hospitals have these readily available, so if it works out it would be something we could put into practice quickly,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a sizable market for COVID-19 testing and other technologies.

According to Allied Market Research, the COVID-19 testing market is expected to grow to a worth of $17,203 million by the end of this year. The testing market’s significant growth can be attributed to a virtual explosion of cases across the world.

However, Allied Market Research says significant factors could decrease COVID-19 test usage in developing areas such as Latin America and African countries.

“Lack of awareness among developing countries regarding the necessary precautions to be taken and dearth of medical professionals that have sufficient knowledge regarding the use of diagnostic kits for novel [COVID-19] are the major factors anticipated to hamper the growth of [COVID-19] diagnostics market,” the firm said in a report.

Such hampered growth will have a magnified effect on the global population as cases continue to rise.

This week, the World Health Organization announced that the global COVID-19 case tally had risen to 40.6 million and urged countries like the United States, which has been a leader in coronavirus cases, to look to countries that have successfully contained the virus’ spread.

"About half of our member states within the European region have experienced a 50% increase in cases in the last week," said WHO executive director of health emergencies Dr. Mike Ryan. "Clearly, across the board, we're seeing a large increase in cases."

About the Author

Headshot for author Elijah Labby

Elijah Labby is a graduate of the National Journalism Center. He has previously written for Broadband Breakfast, a technology and internet policy website.

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