New insights into the multi-organ effects of COVID-19

Dr Nicola Gray stands in front of the NMR suite at the Australian National Phenome Centre

Researchers at the Australian National Phenome Centre have discovered a novel blood chemical signature of COVID-19 consistent with possible neurological complications and liver dysfunction.

The team at the ANPC has identified how chemical pathways in our bodies are uniquely affected by COVID-19, giving insights into how to study an individual’s response to the disease and the long-term health implications following infection.

Director of the ANPC, Professor Jeremy Nicholson, said the research offers insights into how each person responds differently to the disease and the importance of monitoring that response early in the patient journey to help optimise the healthcare pathway.

“To effectively navigate possible future waves of COVID-19, we need to be able to accurately diagnose and predict severity of disease for infected individuals at an early stage so that they can be more effectively monitored and managed,” said Professor Nicholson.

Dr Luke Whiley, one of the lead researchers in the study, said it's evident that each individual responds differently to the disease.

“We’re looking at a disease that has a system-wide impact. What we’ve discovered here is the importance of interrogating an individual’s metabolic phenotype to explain how their whole system will be impacted by infection.”

Researchers compared blood plasma specimens from a group of COVID-19 positive patients, from respiratory patients that were COVID-19 negative and a control group of healthy age and body mass matched participants to determine the key chemical differences between the groups.

COVID-19 positive patients could easily be discriminated from healthy and COVID-19 negative patients. Understanding these differences could enable disease risk and severity prediction to inform clinical management and personalise treatment.

“In particular, we found significant changes in chemicals that both damage and protect the brain following COVID-19 infection,” said Dr Nicola Gray, another member of the ANPC COVID-19 research team. 

“What we’re seeing is a disease that affects pathways consistent with neurotoxicity, neurological disease and liver dysfunction. 

“This is a real concern if the disease leads to secondary neurological complications and may become of particular relevance as more details emerge around the ever-increasing numbers of “Long COVID Syndrome patients.”

Professor Nicholson added the novel biological markers identified may be an effective means of assessing functional recovery in long-term patients or persistent neuroinflammatory and liver problems associated with Long-COVID Syndrome.

“Across the world, there are likely to be tens of millions of Long COVID syndrome patients who will need clinical assessment and support, and our next task is to develop methods to enhance this process,” said Professor Nicholson.

Dr Gray explained the analytical methods developed at the ANPC have allowed us to reveal the complexity of COVID-19 and will be used to track the recovery of patients following infection to understand the long-term health implications.

The ANPC thanks the Spinnaker Health Research Foundation, the McCusker Charitable Foundation and the Government of Western Australia, which helped fund the research. 

The research paper, published this week, is titled ‘Systemic Perturbations in Amine and Kynurenine Metabolism Associated with Acute SARS-CoV 2 Infection and Inflammatory Cytokine Responses’ published in the Journal of Proteome Research.
Learn more about the important research of the Australian National Phenome Centre.
Posted on:

18 Mar 2021


Science, Research

Share this article:

Health Futures Institute

The many interlinked facets of human health, from understanding the genome and its variable expression, to disease surveillance, health data linkage, mental health and navigating life's milestones, intersect at the Health Futures Institute.

Learn more about our research.

Show your support

Clap to show your support for the article