Artem Romanov, Ph.D.

Why are certain vulnerable patient populations prone to developing severe COVID disease?

FUNDED: JANUARY 2021
FUNDED BY: the generosity of 2020 Various Donors

The novel SARS-CoV-2 virus has quickly become a global pandemic threat affecting nearly every aspect of public health and daily life. Originally described as a respiratory disease, accumulating evidence indicates that the resulting disease—COVID-19—causes increased inflammation and multiple organ damage including the vascular system, heart, kidneys, pancreas, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and brain. Taking into account the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, the many organs affected, and the degree to which it has already spread in the general population, it is imperative to understand the factors that drive severe COVID-19 disease manifestations and use this information to develop therapeutic strategies to treat it.

What if it would be possible to change the outcome of severe COVID disease into mild case scenario, or avert long term damage by changing the levels of certain molecules present in the blood?

To answer this question, we must first determine what is so unique about the blood of COVID patients. Our preliminary metabolic screen of COVID patients’ blood has revealed that certain molecules, or metabolites, are elevated in patients with severe disease when compared to patients with mild symptoms. Some of these molecules have already been shown by our team to activate immunity and inflammation in the type of cells that are primarily affected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Therefore, the aim of this project is to apply state-of-the-art, high-resolution mass spectrometry to characterize the blood metabolic profile of patients with severe COVID disease, with a focus on vulnerable populations including cancer patients, patients with cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes or obesity with different ethnic backgrounds.

Six-Month Project Update

I’m investigating the relationship between metabolites and COVID-19 pathogenesis to reveal new potential metabolic targets for treating severely affected COVID-19 patients. Thus far, I’ve collected, organized and annotated hundreds of plasma samples from the CS Cohort, including patients with COVID-19 (severe and non-severe disease) and relevant non-infected control patients. I’ve also categorized all the patient samples based on the clinical outcomes data and other relevant information(e.g. age, sex, ethnicity, BMI, etc.). After that, I extracted plasma metabolites from CS cohort patient samples, analyzed these extracted metabolites and pinpointed several metabolites specifically associated with severe COVID-19 or non-severe COVID-19.

I performed the first comprehensive analysis of metabolites in severe COVID-19 patients, and have shown for the first time that specific metabolites are present in the blood of patients with severe COVID-19. Metabolites associated with severe COVID-19 could be used as biomarkers to predict which patients should immediately receive special drugs (e.g remdesivir). Similarly, metabolites associated with non-severe COVID-19 could be developed and used as clinical therapeutics to lessen case severity.

We now plan to identify more metabolites associated with severe or non-severe COVID-19. We will also focus on identifying the structures of the metabolites we have found so far.