Researchers developing a blood test to 'predict' how severe someone's reaction to COVID-19 will be

Posted at 3:06 PM, Jan 25, 2021

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Doctors at USF Health are working on a test that could predict how bad your reaction will be to the coronavirus before you even develop any symptoms. All your doctor would need is a vial of your blood. Researchers behind the test say it has the potential to customize medical care and save lives.

Your blood could unlock your future and possibly even save your life.

“It’s mind-blowing. If you think about it,” said Dr. Jose Herazo-Maya, a critical care doctor at USF Health who is finishing up a study, along with other doctors, this week to get it ready for peer review and publication.

They are also working on developing the blood test. Dr. Herazo-Maya says the test is ready to be manufactured for trials.

“You have this pattern of gene expression. That means that you’re going to do poorly,” he said of the test results.

This futuristic test falls into the field of Genomics, the study of a person’s genes. It’s different from genetic sequencing, another area of research for USF Health, that allows doctors to track how the virus mutates and to better respond to the pandemic.

The human body carries around 30,000 genes. Dr. Herazo-Maya says if they express abnormally, those patterns can indicate you’re at a high risk of dying from the coronavirus. So far, the blood test would only be able to predict whether you are high-risk or low-risk. Dr. Herazo-Mayo would like to expand the test in the future.

“We will be able to identify the patients who are more likely to die before they even have severe symptoms of COVID,” he said.

Preliminary data shows this blood test is about 75% accurate at finding those that are high-risk. While the test sounds futuristic and like something out of a science-fiction blockbuster, the test is actually repurposed.

Dr. Herazo-Maya says in 2013, their team successfully discovered a signal in the blood that could predict mortality from pulmonary fibrosis or heavy scarring of the lungs. They studied it in 2017 and proved in their data they could test and, therefore, predict those who were most likely to die.

Dr. Herazo-Maya says this test could mean a patient gets tailored medical care, what they call personalized or precision medicine.

“We treat everybody the same, but maybe not everybody should be treated the same,” he said.

His vision for this 50 Gene Risk Profile would be to alert doctors a patient needs immediate and aggressive care before their health declines. It would also help with the allocation of resources. States and hospitals, he says, would get a better understanding of their communities. Areas with more high-risk patients would lead to the preparation of more ICU beds and equipment like ventilators.

“It’s exciting. I think that that’s the way medicine should move forward,” said Dr. Herazo-Maya.

USF Health hopes to have trials of the test by this year.

This story originally reported by Isabel Rosales on