New research is thought to have identified a biomarker in blood for acute COVID-19, which could mean an improved diagnostic test to help indicate when it is a severe case. The study looked at patients with acute COVID-19 and found high levels of interleukin-26 (IL-26).
IL-26 is a signaling molecule found in the blood that usually helps promote host cell and bacterial death. However, it looks like it can help fight the viral COVID-19 infection as well. Of course, vaccines have been an enormous help, but there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of diagnostic tests and treatments for those who are affected severely by the disease.
Principal author of the study Eduardo Cardenas said: “We need to understand more about underlying immunological mechanisms in order to find better treatments. There is also a need for improved diagnostics in COVID-19 patients.”
The study examined elevated signaling molecules that may indicate a COVID infection, with an emphasis on cytokines that are involved with calling an immune response to the specific area.
Initially, they checked whether IL-26 actually plays a role in the COVID infection, as implicated in previous virus infections. The study comprised of 49 patients that were hospitalized due to the virus, of which 44 needed oxygen therapy, as well as 27 healthy controls. The researchers then measured the levels of IL-26 and inflammatory markers present in their blood.
For those with acute COVID-19, it was found that IL-26 as well as other markers of inflammation were raised and which correlated with “don’t eat me” signals on immune cells. With patients with high levels of IL-26, there were also increased markers of damaged tissue, lactate dehydrogenase.
When these markers were higher, it was found to be strongly correlated with cytokine storms, which is a life-threatening complication that involves an over-active immune system.
Not only do IL-26 could likely be an acute COVID-19 biomarker, but it could be a target for new therapies as well.
Dr. Cardenas said: “We can show for the first time that blood levels of the cytokine IL-26 are much higher in patients with COVID-19 than in healthy controls.”
Co-author Professor Anders Linden said: “Our discovery gives us a potential biomarker for severe COVID-19, but given the antiviral effects of IL-26, we may also have identified a new therapeutic target.”