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This could be what determines if you get a mild or severe coronavirus case

Published May 6th, 2020 1:56PM EDT
Coronavirus Treatment
Image: John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

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  • A protein called suPAR might be a reliable indicator of whether or not COVID-19 patients will develop severe respiratory problems.
  • Higher levels of the protein in plasma were associated with a shorter time to intubation in patients who contracted the novel coronavirus and developed a severe case of the disease.
  • More research may be required but if these findings are confirmed, suPAR may become a marker for the severity of the disease.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Remdesivir will become a standard drug for COVID-19 therapy, as current research indicates the medicine that was initially developed for Ebola can reduce the recovery time in patients. Remdesivir isn’t a miracle drug that can prevent the infection, and it can’t reduce mortality. In the absence of a perfect medicine that could reduce the risk of developing complications, or of a vaccine that can prevent novel coronavirus infections altogether, we could benefit from a different tool to help patients. That’s some sort of a marker that might warn doctors of which COVID-19 patients are most likely to develop severe respiratory issues that could ultimately lead to death. Now, a new study claims that such a marker already exists.

Soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor, or suPAR, isn’t something you’d test for unless a doctor recommends it for a specific medical condition. But if the conclusions of this new research are accurate, suPAR may soon become a must-have test for COVID-19 patients.

Research published in Critical Care (via Medical Express) says that increased plasma levels of suPAR can be indicative of adverse progress. The higher the level, the more likely it is for patients to end up in the ICU requiring oxygen and ventilation therapy.

The protein is produced in the endobronchial tree in the lungs and by immune cells in the bone marrow. But suPAR is also known to hurt kidneys, and studies have shown that high plasma levels of suPAR increase the risk of kidney injury. An increasing number of COVID-19 patients have also developed kidney problems and that’s what convinced researchers to look for links between COVID-19, suPAR levels, and kidney disease.

“This is the first report in the world to show that suPAR is elevated in COVID-19 and is predictive. Since suPAR is a reactant of the innate immune system, it’s an indicator of disease severity,” said Rush University Medical Center’s Jochen Reiser, who is a co-correspondent of the study. “These results show that the higher the plasma suPAR level, the worse the outcome will be in the lungs of these patients. The higher the suPAR level, the shorter the time before patients needed intubation.”

The study looked at 15 Rush patients whose suPAR levels were tested upon admittance or when being tested for COVID-19. The University of Athens Medical School looked at suPAR readings for 57 patients. Time to intubation was found to be shorter for patients showing high levels of the protein.

“There is a body of literature that suPAR is associated with poor outcomes from acute respiratory distress syndrome (a condition in many patients with severe COVID-19) and poor lung functioning in critically ill patients,” Reiser said. ARDS is often mentioned as a complication for COVID-19 patients, and doctors are still looking at ways of preventing it.

“If we measure suPAR as part of diagnosing COVID-19, we may know whom to watch more and whom to send home,” he said. “Plasma suPAR levels give us a window into the course of the disease, allowing for improved monitoring and applying new and supportive treatments early.”

Reiser said more research may be required given the small sample of the study, but these findings could be an indication that suPAR is harmful. “It may, therefore, play a prognostic and a causal role in COVID-19 associated kidney disease,” the researcher said.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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