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Mass General Researchers Find Link Between Protein Signature and Severe Health Decline in COVID-19 Patients

In This Article

  • Massachusetts General Hospital researchers have discovered the link between an interleukin-6 protein signature and severe health declines in COVID-19 patients
  • The research team, led by infectious disease experts Marcia Goldberg, MD, and Michael Filbin, MD, studied COVID-19 patients who required intubation or died within 28 days of admission to Mass General
  • Identification of the proteomic signature could lead to promising research and treatment efforts in the future

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital have identified a protein "signature" that has been prevalent in COVID-19 patients and contributed to a serious downturn in their health.

In a study recently published in Cell Reports Medicine, the researchers set out to understand the cause of deaths in COVID-19 patients and find out why some of those patients who exhibited similar symptoms survived.

The research team led by Marcia Goldberg, MD, clinician-researcher in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and Michael Filbin, MD, MS, attending physician and head of clinical research at the Emergency Department, collaborated with Nir Hacohen, PhD, director of Center for Cancer Immunotherapy at the Mass General Cancer Center, to analyze the protein composition of blood samples from patients with severe COVID-19, specifically those who required intubation or died within 28 days of admission to the hospital.

Over a five-week period, 384 blood samples were collected from patients who arrived at Mass General's Emergency Department displaying COVID-19 symptoms. 306 of those samples came from patients who tested positive for coronavirus, while the remaining 78 patients who showed similar symptoms tested negative.

As the team studied the samples and trajectory of the cases, they found a link between Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory protein, and the commonality in patients who experienced severe effects of COVID-19, including death. IL-6, the most prevalent severity-associated protein, surged in patients who died; in surviving patients, it escalated then dropped.

Earlier efforts to treat COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory distress yielded disappointing results due to IL-6 blockers in treatment drugs. However, studies now show promise in combining those drugs with steroid dexamethasone.

Dr. Hacohen and the team believe that the proteomic signatures from this study will be key in understanding the underlying causes of severe COVID-19 deaths, as well as how it affects the lungs, heart and other organs.

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