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22 May 2020, 08:20 | Updated: 22 May 2020, 13:44
A blood test could show if a person will become seriously ill with coronavirus, with clinical trials set to begin on a treatment scientists hope could combat the effects of the illness.
A new study suggests the test could help track a person's immune response to COVID-19, allowing doctors to identify at an early stage who might need additional treatment or critical care.
It found people who suffered the most severe form of the illness had a problem with a specific type of T-cell that clears the body of virus-infected cells.
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Those involved in the research say clinical trials will now take place to establish the effectiveness of a drug called recombinant IL-7 (interleukin 7), which can increase a person's number of T-cells, and in turn boost their immune response.
Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust identified what they call the immunological signature of the disease, based on preliminary analysis of 60 coronavirus patients at St Thomas' Hospital.
Project lead Adrian Hayday, who heads the Crick's Immunosurveillance Laboratory and is professor of immunobiology at King's College London, said: "The changes we've observed in the blood are not subtle and patients with these features seem more likely to experience severe disease, requiring intensive management."
The researchers hope such a blood test could be more broadly applied in hospitals to seek early indications of patient condition, and to effectively help prioritise treatments.
They say their findings on how COVID-19 affects the body could also help inform studies looking to develop effective treatments and vaccines.
As part of the ongoing study, called COVID-IP, patients at Guy's and St Thomas' who have agreed to donate to an infectious disease biobank provide regular blood samples during their treatment for the virus.
The samples are processed in secure containment at Guy's Hospital before immune cells are analysed in the team's laboratories at King's College London and at the Crick.