By Erin McNemar, MPA
September 09, 2021 – A new study of blood samples from nearly 200 COVID-19 patients reveals underlying metabolic changes that regulate how immune cells respond to the infection. These changes are linked to disease severity and, with predictive analytics, could determine patient survival.
COVID-19 patients have different immune responses that affect the course of the disease, ranging from asymptomatic infection to death.
“We have analyzed thousands of biological markers associated with metabolic pathways that underlie the immune system and found some evidence of which immune metabolic changes can be critical in severe disease,” said co-lead author Jihoon Lee in a press release.
“Our hope is that these immune function observations will help others compile the body’s response to COVID-19. The deeper understanding gained here can ultimately lead to better therapies that more precisely target the most problematic immune or metabolic changes. ”
The researchers collected 374 blood samples, two withdrawals from each patient during the first week of their COVID-19 diagnosis. The team then analyzed the plasma and individual immune cells from the samples. The analysis included 1,387 genes involved in metabolic pathways and 1,050 plasma metabolites.
In plasma samples, the teams discovered increased COVID-19 severity related to metabolite changes, suggesting increased immune-related activity. In addition, the researchers found that each major immune cell type had a different metabolic signature through single cell sequencing.
According to the first and corresponding author Yapeng Su, PhD, the researchers found that metabolic reprogramming is highly specific for individual immune cell classes and cell subtypes. In addition, the metabolic reprogramming of the immune system is linked to the global metabolome of the plasma and, with predictive analytics, can determine the severity of the disease and even death.
“Such deep and clinically relevant insights into the sophisticated metabolic reprogramming within our heterogeneous immune system are otherwise impossible without advanced single-cell multi-omic analysis,” said Su.
Research will serve as an important tool in developing more effective treatments for COVID-19. It also poses a major technological hurdle, according to Jim Heath, PhD, president and professor at the Institute of Systems Biology (ISB) and co-author of the paper.
“Many of the data sets that are collected from these patients typically measure very different aspects of the disease and are analyzed in isolation. Of course, one would like these different views to contribute to an overall picture of the patient. The approach described here allows the sum of the various sets of data to be much larger than the parts and allows for a much broader interpretation of the disease, ”said Heath.
The research was carried out by the ISB, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Stanford University, the Swedish Medical Center St. John’s Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center, the University of Washington, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.