COVID biomarker

Photo courtesy, UofL.

One of the more puzzling aspects of COVID-19 is why it affects some people more severely than others. Researchers at UofL have discovered an important biomarker that may provide some answers.

Jun Yan, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and microbiology and pharmacology and immunology at the University of Louisville and a researcher at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, led the research team.

Approximately 20 percent of COVID-19 patients experience severe disease, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). In some of these patients, when their immune cells go to the lungs to fight the infections, they experience complications in the lung and in their blood that can result in heart attack, pulmonary embolism, stroke, or deep vein thrombosis.

The team compared immune cells in COVID-19 patients with those from healthy individuals. They found that one type of immune cells—low-density inflammatory neutrophils—were elevated in patients for whom the condition became severe. The elevation increased the likelihood of death within a few days.

If clinicians can detect a rise in these cells, they may be able to provide therapy to prevent the potentially life-threatening conditions associated with them. Yan is now working with other researchers at UofL to test potential therapies.