This technology can measure the severity of Covid-19

IIT Bombay professor develops technology that can measure the severity of Covid-19

The gold standard RT-PCR test can only tell whether a person is infected or not, but can't determine the severity of the infection

Representative Image. Credit: DH File Photo/BK Janardhan

Would it not be good to have a test to alert doctors if the condition of a particular Covid-19 positive patient turns severe, requiring oxygen support and a bed in an intensive care unit?

A technology developed by an Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay professor may lead to such a detection kit with one of the world's top pharmaceutical companies beginning to work with the IIT team to come out with a commercial diagnosis tool.

Currently, there is no way to predict how severe the symptoms of an infected person could become. The gold standard RT-PCR test can only tell whether a person is infected or not, but can't determine the severity of the infection.

The IIT team, led by Sanjeeva Srivastava from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering in collaboration with medical researchers at Kasturba Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Mumbai, has identified six proteins that could differentiate severe Covid-19 patients from non-severe ones. They also developed a mass spectrometry test to determine the presence of such proteins in swab samples.

"We have entered into a collaboration with Merck to develop a simple diagnostic kit using our patented technology since mass spectrometers are expensive and can’t be used by hospitals," Srivastava told DH.

The company has provided a funding of Rs 1.75 crore to create a Centre of Excellence at IIT for developing the kit.

"With this donation, Merck is aiding IIT in the early identification of Covid-19 virus severity to facilitate appropriate healthcare management," Merck India, Life Science Business MD, Sunil Punjabi had stated last month after signing an agreement with the IIT.

The researchers compared 11 non-severe samples with 13 severe patient samples. They identified six significant proteins that could differentiate severe Covid-19 patients from non-severe ones.

In fact, the panel of half a dozen proteins is part of a larger group of 25 proteins, which is found in the swab samples of all Covid-19 patients.

The set of 25 proteins can be used as a primary diagnostic tool using a mass spectrometer, but the researchers are not keen to pursue such an approach because cheaper diagnosis is already available.

Instead, such proteins can be targeted as potential drug targets. In the laboratory, the team probed the binding efficiency 29 FDA-approved, nine clinical, and 20 pre-clinical trial drugs to the proteins and identified several drug candidates and small molecules, which could potentially bind to and inhibit the significant proteins, the scientists reported in a recent issue of the journal iScience.

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