Researchers at the University of Alberta may have found a new piece of the puzzle to fully understand COVID-19 — how a protein may be deregulating the immune system and leading to serious long-term conditions or death.
The new study shows COVID-19 patients have high levels of a protein called galectin-9 in their blood plasma. Researchers have also found a link between those elevated levels of galectin-9 and the occurrence of “cytokine storms” within the patient’s body.
A cytokine storm is when cytokine is produced very quickly and released in large quantity, which causes severe inflammation, damages organs and tissue and can lead to death.
If the team’s suppositions are correct — that COVID-19 patients can be identified by analyzing a sample of their blood — it would introduce a new form of COVID testing. It could also allow healthcare professionals to identify the extent of a COVID-19 infection based on the level of galectin-9 in a patient’s blood plasma.
Dr. Elahi says the next step in the research would be to develop treatments to block the protein.