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Can the evolution of COVID-19 patients be predicted?

A team of researchers from the University of the Balearic Islands are working to develop a quick inexpensive methodology for analysing the proteomic profile of patients based on mass spectrometry

Is it possible for doctors to know what the evolution of COVID-19 patients will be before they show serious symptoms? And can this key information for treatment be achieved quickly and cheaply?

A team of researchers from the University of the Balearic Islands has been working for weeks now to achieve this. Their hypothesis is based on the idea that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for COVID-19, induces characteristic molecular changes that can be detected in the serum of seriously ill patients. Moreover, these changes could be seen in mass spectrometry analysis - a technique that enables highly precise and sensitive detection of practically all proteins present in a sample.

The information containing the proteomic profile

The methodology being developed by the UIB researchers is based on mass spectrometry analysis of patients' serum that defines proteomic profiles - the information on all proteins found in the blood and tissues. Proteomic profile analysis is already used to identify and diagnose illnesses, and to know whether the body is responding properly to treatment.

The technique should enable patient classification criteria to be established based on the information extracted from their protein analysis, and to associate them to variables that enable the evolution of the illness to be anticipated from the initial stages. This information would be key to establishing the most suitable action protocols based on planned prognosis and, particularly, for those patients who may present more serious manifestations of the illness. In short, doctors would have access to key information and anticipate which patients are likely to have a more severe clinical prognosis.

Quicker and cheaper analyses

The UIB researchers have started the study with two hundred patients who are already taking part in another study led by Dr Mercedes García Gasalla, IDISBA researcher and associate lecturer in the Department of Medicine at the UIB. The collected samples will be analysed with two mass spectrometry techniques - MALDI-TOF and LC-HMRS - to try and ascertain biomarkers or biomolecular patterns that enable them to be classified in different groups and make predictions.

These techniques enable analysis results to be attained in a short time (30 minutes for MALDI-TOF and 60 minutes for LC-HMRS) and are cheaper, since they do not require any commercial equipment.

If the study sees the expected success, the methodology could be transferred quickly to Son Espases University Hospital and Son Llàtzer Hospital, since they would only need to reconfigure the MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry analysis equipment they already have.

The team

The UIB team of researchers taking part in this project comprises Dr Sebastià Albertí, profession of microbiology, lead researcher in the Antibiotic Resistance and Pathogenesis of Bacterial Infections Research Group, and director of the Science and Technical Services (SCT) at the UIB; Dr Antonio Domènech-Sánchez, contract lecturer with a doctoral degree and member of the same group; Dr Gabriel Martorell, head of the Chemical Analysis and Technologies section of the SCT at the UIB; and Dr Rosa Gomila, SCT technician at the UIB.

This project is one of the seven to be funded by the Health Research Institute of the Balearic Islands (IDISBA) in the framework of the Call for Expressions of Interest in COVID-19 Project Funding.

Event date: 19/05/2020

Publication date: 19/05/2020