LONDON, ONT -- A new study from researchers across Canada could have far-reaching implications in the fight against COVID-19.

The research project was conducted by Lawson Health Research Institute, Western University (London, Ont.), and the University of Alberta.

The team looked at how COVID-19 affects the human body’s concentration of specific molecules in the blood.

These molecules, also known as metabolites, may act as biomarkers that could one day be measured in a rapid test.

“While our findings need to be confirmed in a larger group of patients, they could lead to a rapid, cost-effective screening tool as a first line of testing in the community and in-hospital,” said Dr. Douglas Fraser, lead researcher on the project.

However, the potential of the metabolites may go beyond that of identifying the disease.

With information from previous studies the team believes they may be able to predict the severity of an infection and perhaps even use supplements as a form of secondary treatment.

“Providing dietary supplements could be a simple adjunctive or secondary therapy with meaningful outcomes,” said Fraser.

The team discovered four metabolites of importance to COVID-19 disease detection.

They discovered that by studying the concentrations of only two metabolites they could distinguish COVID-19 patients from healthy participants and other critically ill patients with 98 per cent accuracy.

In other studies, the team found additional biomarkers that could be used to predict how severely ill a COVID-19 patient will become.

“We’re working to uncover hard evidence about how the virus invades the body. Ultimately, we hope our combined findings can lead to faster diagnosis, ways to identify patients most at risk of poor outcomes and targets for novel treatments,” notes Dr. Fraser.

The study analyzed blood samples from 30 participants at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC): 10 COVID-19 patients and 10 patients with other infections admitted to the ICU, as well as 10 healthy control participants.

The samples were sent to The Metabolomics Innovation Centre (TMIC) at University of Alberta where a team measured plasma concentrations of 162 metabolites.