Potential long COVID treatment emerges from University of Alberta’s groundbreaking research
Researchers at the University of Alberta have made a significant discovery regarding long COVID, identifying an amino acid that could be crucial in predicting and treating the condition. Published recently in Cell Reports Medicine, their study outlines a predictive test for identifying patients at risk of developing long COVID and suggests a potential treatment involving a supplement already approved by health authorities.
Gavin Oudit, the study’s principal investigator and a professor of medicine at the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, emphasized the importance of this research. “This research helps us understand what’s happening in the bodies of people with long COVID and could lead to better treatments and tests for them in the future,” said Oudit. Oudit is also the director of the Heart Function Clinic at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute.
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The study tracked 117 Alberta patients hospitalized with acute COVID-19. Blood samples were taken upon admission and again at six months, while clinical records were reviewed over 18 months. Of these patients, 55 developed severe post-COVID conditions, exhibiting three or more long-term symptoms.
The research team analyzed changes in proteins and metabolites in the patients’ blood, including indicators of inflammation. They then applied machine learning to this data, developing a predictive model consisting of 20 molecules, which accurately forecasted adverse clinical outcomes post-discharge with 83 percent accuracy.
A key finding was the variation in plasma levels of taurine, an amino acid, among patients. “Patients with lower levels of taurine had a lot more symptoms, more of them were hospitalized and there was an increased risk for mortality,” Oudit explained. “Patients that had high levels of taurine and maintained high levels of taurine in their blood had much fewer ongoing symptoms and did better.”
Long COVID, defined by Health Canada as symptoms persisting beyond 12 weeks post-infection, currently lacks a proven treatment. Symptoms are managed individually, such as prescribing medication for specific conditions like hypertension or lung problems.
Taurine, found in meat and fish and produced by the human liver, regulates various physiological functions, including the immune system. Notably, a recent study in Science linked taurine supplementation with slower aging in mice and primates. Taurine is an essential additive in pet food and baby formula and is available as a supplement.
Oudit highlighted the need for further research on taurine supplementation in humans, noting that small studies have shown no harmful side effects and potential benefits, such as lowered blood pressure and improved cognition.
The U of A team plans to initiate a Phase 3 clinical trial to test taurine supplementation in COVID-19 patients, aiming to minimize long COVID symptoms. This trial, seeking to confirm the benefits of an already-approved supplement for a specific group, will be conducted in partnership with the Canadian Long COVID Web, a nationwide research network.
Additionally, the team is working with Long COVID Web colleagues to validate their predictive test using samples from thousands of Canadians, ensuring its accuracy across a diverse population.
While optimistic about taurine’s potential benefits for long COVID, Oudit urges caution: “Patients should not go out and start consuming taurine in high levels to help with long COVID,” he advises. “Taurine supplements are relatively safe, but we need to get that evidence from a clinical trial. We need to be balanced. We need to be excited but also be right.”
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