This Could Help the "Sickest of the Sick" Coronavirus Patients, Doctors Say

Yale researchers have an answer to one of COVID's biggest mysteries.

For months now, doctors have struggled to understand why some coronavirus patients present with one mysterious symptom, associated with many of the most severe cases of the virus: blood clotting. In a video conference, Gary Gibbons, MD, director of NIH's Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, called this particular symptom one of COVID's most "startling and, unfortunately, devastating complications."

But thankfully, a research team at the Yale Cancer Center has made a discovery that could help those patients avoid the worst case scenario of having a stroke or embolism. In a study published in The Lancet Hematology, the team was able to pinpoint a biological marker that could signal future clotting, allowing doctors to intervene sooner.

The clinical study examined the blood of 68 patients with coronavirus: 48 of them critically ill in an intensive care unit (ICU), 20 receiving care in a non-ICU hospital unit, and a control group of 13 virus-free volunteers. By doing so, they made a shocking discovery. One protein found on the surface of endothelial cells (called "thrombomodulin") was roughly twice as high in the ICU group than in the non-ICU group, and also higher in the non-ICU group than in the control group.

One doctor from the Yale research team, George Goshua, MD, put it simply in a televised interview: "Your body is trying to fight off this significant clot burden and break down these clots, and the patients who are going to go on to die are the ones who have a high level of this soluble thrombomodulin."

Fortunately, as Goshua points out, there are existing medications, including those currently used to prevent strokes, that seem to effectively combat the problem. Referring to the study subjects, he noted, "so far they've actually all improved, and we're talking about the sickest of the sick."

The team is now exploring other therapeutic measures that could prevent blood clots in COVID-19 patients by protecting the endothelial cell layers, a breakthrough that could save countless lives. And make sure you're on the lookout for all coronavirus symptoms: This Is the COVID Symptom You're Most Likely To Miss, Doctor Says.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
Filed Under