For those who haven’t yet had Covid-19, the biggest unknown is how severe their infection will be. Researchers at George Washington University appear to have answered that question with a “revolutionary” new blood test that predicts how a person’s immune system will react.
The test, which also detects if an individual has Covid-19, measures neutrophils and T-cell activity.
To understand more about the variation in symptoms and prognosis, the GW researchers sequenced whole blood RNA from COVID-19 patients whose symptoms ranged from asymptomatic to severe. They found visible changes in the cells of people with COVID-19. Their analysis also revealed that COVID-19 severity was associated with an increase in neutrophil activity and a decrease in T-cell activity. Neutrophils and T-cells, both a type of white blood cell, are part of the body’s immune system and help fight off infections. In other words, the body’s immune system response, as measured by neutrophil activity, signals that there’s an infection whether caused by a known, novel, or variant pathogen. (GWU)
“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,” Timothy McCaffrey, professor of medicine at GW and lead researcher on the project, said in a statement.
“When we sequence whole blood RNA, we’re given a fuller, more dynamic picture of what’s happening inside the body, and our test helps identify those who need the more aggressive treatments.”
According to McCaffrey, the test also has value beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
“[O]ur technique would be able to detect any infection with a high degree of accuracy,” he said. “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.”
If the test proves effective in additional studies, the researchers plan to seek an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.