Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, US, have developed a new simple and rapid test that can measure mitochondrial DNA in the blood of a Covid-19 patient and identify those who are at highest risk of severe disease or death.

The blood test can be conducted within a day of a hospital admission and checks levels of mitochondrial DNA, which measures tissue damage.

Scientists noted that mitochondrial DNA spilling out of cells and into the bloodstream signifies that a specific type of violent cell death is happening in the body.

The study was conducted on approximately 100 Covid-19 patients who were newly admitted to the hospital.

Jacqueline G and William E Maritz Endowed Chair in Immunology and Oncology in the Department of Surgery Andrew E Gelman said: “Doctors need better tools to evaluate the status of Covid-19 patients as early as possible because many of the treatments such as monoclonal antibodies are in short supply, and we know that some patients will get better without intensive treatments.

“In particular, we need to understand why some patients, irrespective of their ages or underlying health in some cases, go into this hyperinflammatory death spiral.

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“Our study suggests that tissue damage may be one cause of this spiral since the mitochondrial DNA that is released is itself an inflammatory molecule.”

According to the researchers, the test can potentially be used to predict disease severity, for designing clinical trials, and detecting patients who might, for example, benefit from investigational therapies.

Furthermore, they will evaluate whether the test could serve as a way to monitor the effectiveness of new therapies.

Presumably, effective treatments would lower mitochondrial DNA levels.

The rapid test can potentially be used in most of the hospital settings as it utilises the same machinery as the PCR test and delivers results in an hour.