Study identifies potential therapeutic targets for COVID-19

Lawson Health Research Institute

A team from Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University profiled the body's immune response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to new research published in the journal Critical Care Explorations.

Since the pandemic's start there have been reports that the immune system can overreact to the virus and cause a cytokine storm, elevated levels of inflammatory molecules that damage healthy cells. By studying blood samples from critically ill patients at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), the research team identified a unique pattern of six molecules that could be used as therapeutic targets to treat the virus.

The study included 30 participants, 10 COVID-19 patients and 10 patients with other infections admitted to LHSC's intensive care unit (ICU), as well as 10 healthy control participants. Blood was drawn daily for the first seven days of ICU admission, processed in a lab, and then analyzed using statistical methods and artificial intelligence (AI).

The research team studied 57 inflammatory molecules. They found that six molecules were uniquely elevated in COVID-19 intensive care unit patients, which include tumor necrosis factor, granzyme B, heat shock protein 70, interleukin-18, interferon-gamma-inducible protein 10, and elastase 2.

The team also used AI to validate their results. They found that inflammation profiling was able to predict the presence of COVID-19 in critically ill patients with 98 percent accuracy. They also found that one of the molecules, heat shock protein 70, was strongly associated with an increased risk of death when measured in the blood early during the illness.

“Understanding the immune response is paramount to finding the best treatments," said Douglas Fraser, MD, PhD, FRCPC, lead researcher and critical care physician at LHSC, in a statement. “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.”

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