Targeted Metabolomics and Covid-19

Targeted Metabolomics Identifies High Performing Diagnostic And Prognostic Biomarkers For Covid-19

When Dr. Yamile López-Hernández learned in early 2020 that the National Council of Science and Technology of Mexico (CONACYT) had issued a call for proposals for COVID-19-related research, one of the first people she reached out to was TMIC co-director Dr. David Wishart.

While a guest at TMIC’s Research Hotel during the summer of 2019, Dr. López-Hernández, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, had spent time in Dr. Wishart’s lab. When she spoke with him in early 2020, they discussed ways to use metabolomics to identify how COVID-19 changes a person’s metabolic profile and how that information could be used to better predict the course of a person’s illness.

The resulting paper, “Targeted Metabolomics Identifies High Performing Diagnostic and Prognostic Biomarkers for Covid-19” was published July 19, 2021, in Scientific Reports. Among its important findings were that plasma metabolites could be used to accurately (~95%) distinguish individuals who were COVID-19 negative but had COVID-19-like symptoms from those who were COVID-19 positive and had COVID-19-like symptoms. Furthermore, plasma metabolites could be used to accurately (~98%) predict the severity of the disease and outcomes (no hospitalization, hospitalization, intubation) in COVID-19 infected patients.

When Dr. López-Hernández applied for the grant in April 2020, only one paper had been published about the metabolic profiles of COVID-19. It focused on Chinese patients and contained little evidence about metabolic changes provoked by the virus.

In early 2020, owing to a lack of ventilators and ICU beds in Mexico, one of the questions Dr. López-Hernández wanted to answer was how to predict which patients would be hospitalized and, more important, which would require intubations and which were most likely to die.

Working with her own university as well as the Mexican Institute of Social Security and the Christus Muguerza Hospital in Chihuahua, Dr. López-Hernández assembled a team of physicians, nurses, laboratory analysts, PhD students and researchers. They collected blood samples from more than 1000 patients between March and November 2020, of which a sample of 161, from patients between the ages of 35 and 70, was analyzed.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without TMIC participation,” Dr. López-Hernández said via email shortly after the paper was published, explaining what a challenge she and her team in Mexico faced: in addition to collecting biological samples at a time of heightened biosecurity, there was the difficulty of seeing patients dying—40 percent died before the study ended. There was also a risk to those who were conducting the study, some of whom became infected with COVID-19.

Dr. López-Hernández praised Dr. Rupasri Mandal for her help coordinating the shipment of samples, which were analyzed within a month. The quick turnover allowed the scientists in Mexico and Edmonton to get to work on data analysis, interpretation, manuscript writing, and discussion.

The paper was submitted at the end of February. Dr. López-Hernández and her team in Mexico continued to analyze their data, looking at cytokine/chemokine measurements that could be used to identify an immuno-metabolic signature for COVID-19. Those results have been submitted to PLOS-ONE and are under review.

“The collaboration continues, and this alliance strengthens the scientific capabilities in the region,” Dr. López-Hernández wrote in that same email. “The results are quite satisfactory. We think that at least, with this, we have contributed in a small way in the fight against the disease.”

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