London-based researchers have discovered patterns of blood plasma proteins that could be key in treating patients with long COVID.

In a recent study, a team at Lawson Health Research Institute collected blood plasma samples from long COVID outpatients through the Post-Acute COVID-19 Program at St. Joseph’s. They then compared the samples to those of acutely ill COVID-19 inpatients at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), as well as a group of healthy volunteers.

What they found was that patients with long COVID had unique patterns in the blood proteins. In addition to that they showed prolonged inflammation associated with changes in their immune cells and blood vessels. These changes can lead to problems in specific organs, like the brain and the heart.

"Those patients experience a wide variety of symptoms, which may include fatigue, brain fog and difficulty breathing,” said Dr. Douglas Fraser, Lawson scientist and critical care physician at LHSC. “Their quality of life can be significantly altered, so anything that we can do to learn about this disorder and identify potential treatment targets is very important.”

The proteins found, called the plasma proteome, are located in blood plasma and are released by cells that play an important role in the body’s immune response to viruses.

By studying how these proteins adapt and change with long COVID, researchers hope to identify why some patients experience certain symptoms and whether the proteins could act as a potential drug target for treatment.

"When we identify these signaling patterns within the blood plasma, we can then take the information and screen drug databases to better understand which drugs would be best to target the changes we identified in long COVID patients,” said Fraser. “With this understanding, the identified drugs may be used in future long COVID clinical trials.”

Long COVID effects between 10 to 20 per cent of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The study has been published in The Journal of Translational Medicine.

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