New study suggests blood plasma proteins hold answers to better understanding long COVID


LONDON - Recently published in The Journal of Translational Medicine, a team at Lawson Health Research Institute has discovered unique patterns of blood plasma proteins in patients with suspected long COVID that could act as a potential drug target to improve patient outcomes.

Currently, approximately 10-20 per cent of people with a confirmed case of COVID-19 will get long COVID.

“Those patients experience a wide variety of symptoms, which may include fatigue, brain fog and difficulty breathing,” says Dr. Douglas Fraser, Lawson Scientist and Critical Care Physician at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). “Their quality of life can be significantly altered, so anything that we can do to learn about this disorder and identify potential treatment targets is very important.”

Called “the plasma proteome,” the proteins being studied are found in blood plasma and are released by cells that often play an important role in the body’s immune response to viruses. The research team is studying how those proteins adapt and change in long COVID.

“Trying to understand this mechanism is quite important because it provides further insight into how patients are affected,” says Dr. Michael Nicholson, Associate Scientist at Lawson and Respirologist at St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph’s). “This paper sheds further light onto a possible mechanism which may provide insight into why some patients have certain symptoms.”

As part of the study, blood plasma samples were collected from long COVID outpatients through the Post-Acute COVID-19 Program at St. Joseph’s and analyzed in comparison to acutely ill COVID-19 inpatients at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), as well as compared to a group of healthy volunteers.

“We used novel technologies for this study, allowing us to analyze more than 3,000 proteins in blood plasma at the same time with multiple patients,” explains Cristiana Iosef, Research Analyst at Children’s Health Research Institute (CHRI), a program of Lawson. “We used novel bioinformatic pipelines, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), to then analyze the proteins to determine the specific changes that occur in long COVID.”

By using advanced technology the researchers were able to determine unique patterns in the blood proteins. The team discovered that people with suspected long COVID have prolonged inflammation associated with changes in their immune cells and blood vessels. These changes may lead to problems in specific organs, like the brain and the heart.

Dr. Fraser, who is also a Professor at Western University, adds that the proteins discovered could act as a potential drug target. The team is now examining potential new drug therapies with the hopes of improving outcomes for these patients.

“When we identify these signaling patterns within the blood plasma, we can then take the information and screen drug databases to better understand which drugs would be best to target the changes we identified in long COVID patients,” says Dr. Fraser. “With this understanding, the identified drugs may be used in future long COVID clinical trials.”

This research, which used multiple state-of the-art technologies, was enabled by existing expertise and infrastructure through CHRI.

About Lawson Health Research Institute

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit

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