ICMR identifies biomarkers to diagnose severity, predict recovery of Covid-19 | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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ICMR identifies biomarkers to diagnose severity, predict recovery of Covid-19

ByPayal Gwalani
Jan 18, 2023 12:52 AM IST

In 2021, two separate studies were taken up by the institute on a small cohort of Covid positive blood samples, the results of which were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Leukocyte Biology.

Mumbai: The National Institute For Research In Reproductive and Child Health (NIRRCH) of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), have identified biomarkers that could help diagnose the severity of Covid-19 through a blood test. Biomarkers, or biological markers, are molecules whose presence can indicate disease progression.

The first-of-its-kind study is currently being replicated on bigger sample size, including those from different generations of the Covid-19 virus. Nearing completion, the results of this bigger validity study have the potential to be commercialised as a way to improve and optimise the use of resources including medicines. (HT PHOTO)
The first-of-its-kind study is currently being replicated on bigger sample size, including those from different generations of the Covid-19 virus. Nearing completion, the results of this bigger validity study have the potential to be commercialised as a way to improve and optimise the use of resources including medicines. (HT PHOTO)

In 2021, two separate studies were taken up by the institute on a small cohort of Covid positive blood samples, the results of which were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Leukocyte Biology. They can help arrive at definitive treatment protocols for Covid-19. Their method can also help doctors decide the treatment modality and predict the chances of recovery based on the ability of the patient to develop antibodies.

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The first-of-its-kind study is currently being replicated on bigger sample size, including those from different generations of the Covid-19 virus. Nearing completion, the results of this bigger validity study have the potential to be commercialised as a way to improve and optimise the use of resources including medicines.

“The blood test that we have come up with can be performed on all patients and found to be covid positive. The results would help the doctors conclude whether a particular patient would require more attention. This mechanism is especially beneficial to manage people in high-risk groups,” said Vainav Patel, the head of the department of viral Immunopathogenesis Lab at NIRRCH. “We stored and distributed Covid-19 testing reagents and were identified as a possible site to store vaccines.”

The institute was selected as a testing laboratory by ICMR in March 2020 when the first wave of Covid infections had just about begun. Along with its location in the centre of Mumbai at Parel, having a well-equipped laboratory and in-house expertise in virology came as an added advantage.

As the head of the virology lab of the institute, Patel was designated as the nodal covid officer in the institute. His responsibilities at the time included coordinating with Kasturba Hospital daily about the number of positive cases, storing RT-PCR testing kits, 200 crores worth of testing reagents and later vaccines as well and ensuring the smooth logistical flow of the material. Subsequently, the institute’s lab – one of the few in the country to have high throughput testing equipment that could process up to 1500 samples a day as opposed to 200 samples in other labs – ended up testing more than 2 lakh samples.

Being virologists, though, the team was also keeping an eye on the findings about the virus and the way it affects the human body. “The fact that some were not showing any symptoms, others were affected to varying degrees by the same virus was intriguing. That made us think that the difference lies in how the host responds to the presence of the virus inside the body, and we decided to focus on that,” said Patel.

Fortunately, they could access blood samples of Covid patients through collaborating institutes like BKC Covid jumbo centre and BYL Nair Hospital. They went looking for the damage done by the Covid-19 virus to the body and the convalescence pattern of the patients, then chanced upon the difference in antibody production in patients due to varying factors. They devised what is called as sMIL index, the ratio of two biomarkers MAdCAM and IL6. They found that those with acute infection showed lower MAdCAM levels in blood plasma, which start increasing as the person recovers. The exact opposite happened with the levels of inflammatory marker IL6.

Their first conclusion was that higher levels of plasma IL-6, but not sMAdCAM, were associated with a longer duration of hospitalisation while the second indicated the role of sMIL index as an integrative disease progression marker for Covid-19.

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