A newly developed Covid blood test expertly identifies if a person is infected with COVID-19 and how severely their immune system will react to the disease.
Developed by researchers at George Washington University, the innovative Covid blood test may help health care professionals to make informed decisions about the most optimal treatment plan for people with COVID-19.
The research, titled “RNA Sequencing in COVID-19 patients identifies neutrophil activation biomarkers as promising diagnostic platform for infections”, is published in PLOS One. The project was funded by The St. Laurent Institute, True Bearing Diagnostics, and The Ulvi and Reykhan Kasimov Family.
Forecasting Covid symptoms
Predicting how the immune system will respond to Covid infection or other disease-causing microbes is a limitation of current testing. The body’s immune response could range from mild to critically severe symptoms, resulting in intensive care or death for the patient.
In order to further understand this vast variation in symptoms and prognosis, the George Washington University team sequenced whole blood RNA from COVID-19 patients with a wide range of symptom severity, from asymptomatic to severe, finding notable changes in the cells of people with COVID-19.
Further analysis showed an association with infection severity, an increase in neutrophil activity and a decrease in T-cell activity. Neutrophils and T-cells are a type of white blood cell that helps to combat infection – the body’s immune system response, measured by neutrophil activity, signifies there is an infection caused by a known, new, or variant pathogen.
Timothy McCaffrey, a professor of medicine at GWU and lead researcher on the project, said: “This test could prove very valuable during the pandemic, especially as variants continue to spread and doctors need to be confident in identifying the problem and providing effective treatment. This test could prove very valuable during the pandemic, especially as variants continue to spread and doctors need to be confident in identifying the problem and providing effective treatment.”
Developing the Covid blood test
Prior research from McCaffrey’s team discovered RNA biomarkers in patients with inflammatory conditions like appendicitis and pneumonia. Similarly, in their new findings with COVID-19 patients, they detected an increase in neutrophil-related RNAs when they measured RNA levels in the patients’ blood.
This spurred the team to apply their approach to creating a Covid blood test that locates RNA biomarkers for COVID-19 infection and severity. Their novel point-of-care (POC) Covid blood test is able to detect infection from SARS-CoV-2 pathogens and may have further valuable applications.
McCaffrey said: “Beyond the current pandemic, our technique would be able to detect any infection with a high degree of accuracy. That has applications for all sorts of conditions wherein doctors diagnosing patients need to quickly rule in or rule out whether they are dealing with an infection or something else.”
The team said that if their Covid blood test is proven to be effective in studies, they will seek emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which may take up to 6-months or longer. However, if approved, it could give clinicians a powerful decision-making tool to combat COVID-19 and future pandemics.