Researchers are combining new technologies to examine blood proteins in COVID-19 patients


By Lawson Health Research Institute Communications

Using new technology, a research team from Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Lawson Health Research Institute have discovered unique patterns of blood plasma proteins in critically ill patients that may help develop a more personalized approach to treating severe COVID-19.

Called the plasma proteome, the proteins being studied are released by cells that often play an important role in the body’s immune response to viruses. The research team studied how they adapt and change to a COVID-19 infection.

As part of the study – published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicineblood samples were taken from 30 subjects in three patient groups at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). One group had patients with COVID-19, another group had patients with severe infection but were negative for COVID-19, and the third was a healthy control group. Blood samples were drawn on the day of critical care admission and again on days three, seven and 10 in hospital.

“We collected plasma from these patients and measured well over a thousand proteins with great accuracy using new technology that combines immunology and genomics,” said Dr. Douglas Fraser, Lawson scientist, critical care physician at Children’s Hospital at LHSC and professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “With the use of this advanced technology, we were able to better analyze the protein patterns and better understand what is happening with COVID-19, especially in critically ill patients.”

Cristiana-Iosef_300x300.jpgCristiana Iosef, PhD, research assistant.

The research team found that COVID-19 patients demonstrated changes in immunosuppression pathways, which typically keeps the immune system balanced. In critically ill patients, the changes were heightened. Analyses of the plasma proteome helped researchers determine which cells in the body are active during the disease state and which signaling pathways were activated.

“In-depth analysis of the human plasma proteome helps us capture tissue proteins that can provide us with information regarding organ integrity during infection," said Cristiana Iosef, research assistant, PhD. “This is important because it will allow us to search for new blood biomarkers that are specific for COVID-19 patients.” 

This research, which used state-of-the-art analysis technology, was enabled by existing expertise and technologies through Children’s Health Research Institute (CHRI), a program of Lawson.

Dr.-Victor-Han300x300.jpgDr. Victor Han

 “This study has allowed us to understand the progression of the disease processes in very sick patients, providing us clues on the body’s immune system and other systems that were reacting to the severe disease,” said Dr. Victor Han, Lawson scientist, director of CHRI and professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “We hope this knowledge will allow us to identify the patients who will become severely ill, and develop new therapies to counteract the changes occurring within their bodies.”

Fraser, who is also a scientist at CHRI, added that the team can now examine potential new drug therapies with the hopes of improving outcomes for these patients.

The next steps for the research team will be to use this technology to examine plasma biomarkers in long COVID patients to determine why some develop prolonged disease after a COVID-19 infection.