Japanese researchers trial early warning test for acute COVID-19 cases

FILE PHOTO: A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus linked to the Wuhan outbreak, shared with Reuters on February 18, 2020. NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese researchers have developed a blood test they say appears to serve as an early warning system for serious cases of COVID-19, and deployed 500 prototype machines to trial its effectiveness nationwide.

Researchers from the National Center for Global Health and Medicine initially tested for five compounds in the blood of 28 patients, finding that low readings of the serum CCL17 were predictive of serious coronavirus infections.

The results suggested that early tests for the serum could help determine which patients will need hospitalization, they said in a paper published this month.

“If CCL17 is lower than 100 picograms per milliliter, then we ask them to be hospitalized, but if it’s over 400, the patients can stay in a hotel or their house and check in every three days,” lead researcher Masaya Sugiyama told Reuters on Friday.

More data was needed to confirm the results of the small study, Sugiyama said, but since the 28-patient trial the group has worked with a Japanese company to develop a prototype testing machines for the serum.

Almost 500 of the devices are being used in the country and they deliver results in about 20 minutes, he said.

The group is preparing to seek regulatory approval for the device in Japan, and looking into licensing and export options for overseas markets, according to Sugiyama, who declined to name the company making the testing device.

“Who will develop into (potential) death cases or those who will be asymptomatic is very important to clarify,” Sugiyama said. “This method will be available all over the world, and if they test it, that (determination) would be very easy to understand.”

Reporting by Rocky Swift; editing by John Stonestreet