A joint study between the University and University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) is analysing the differing immune responses of COVID-19 patients and working to develop a simple test that could help predict who is likely to develop serious illness.

Led by Honorary Associate Professor in Hepatology Dr Ashwin Dhanda and Professor Matthew Cramp, both Consultants at UHP, the Immune Biomarkers of Outcome from COVID-19 (IBOC) study is using blood samples taken from patients admitted to Derriford Hospital with the disease.

By analysing samples taken as soon as patients enter hospital, and then following them as their disease progresses, the team aims to be able to identify at a relatively early stage who is most likely to go on to develop the severe respiratory illness that can be associated with the virus.

The study is a collaboration between the University’s Hepatology Research Group, which is headed by Professor Cramp, and Trust staff from a range of clinical disciplines, supported by Clinical Research Nurses and others. The University researchers are working in Derriford on a short-term basis, carrying out innovative laboratory analysis to see how patients’ immune response – the body’s reaction to the virus – evolves over the course of their time in hospital.

While much of the lab work is complex, to provide a detailed understanding of how the immune system is responding, the team is also developing a simpler test it is hoped can be scaled up and rolled out to other acute care settings, to identify who is most likely to become critically ill as a result of the virus.  

Professor Cramp, Chair in Hepatology at the University said:

“In some patients, the immune system seems to ‘overreact’ to the infection, and this is what generates the severe lung injury we have been seeing. Making use of our group’s expertise in viral hepatitis immunology, we are studying markers of immune function focussing on cellular immunity and ageing related responses to see if we can find predictors of this overreaction.

“If we can better understand what goes wrong with the immune response to the virus and develop a simple test to identify those likely to progress to the most dangerous illness, it could be a real help in tackling the disease, alongside things like a reliable antibody test. Getting this project up and running so rapidly has been an example of great team work and collaboration at a time of real challenge.”


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