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Translating ENT research to world-first COVID-19 breakthroughs

Dr Arutha Kulasinghe, holding a 'chip' used to seperate cancer cells in blood samples. Dr Kulasinghe's research has shed fresh light on how head and neck cancer spreads to other organs.
December 1, 2021 News

Patients will soon be able to take a rapid blood test/finger prick test to predict COVID-19 disease severity, thanks in part to the work of Dr Arutha Kulasinghe.

Arutha leads the Spatial biology and liquid biopsy group at the University of Queensland (UQ), and is a pioneer in spatial transcriptomics. His work has contributed to world-first studies for cancer and COVID-19. Arutha currently holds a Conjoint Grant with Associate Professor Brett Hughes, where they are looking at Identification of predictive biomarkers for immune checkpoint blockade in head and neck cancer.

The work on COVID-19 includes:

1.      Identifying a ‘cell fitness marker’ to determine a patient’s likely need for hospitalisation from COVID-19 infection

2.      Identifying a gene signature of COVID-19 disease severity

“The second study has really come about because of our work in head and neck cancers, in particular, learned applications of spatial biology directly to COVID-19 tissues,” says Arutha.  “We’ve now tested and validated the gene in 1000 nasal and blood samples and it appears to be strongly predictive of COVID-19 disease severity.”

The blood test is being commercialised by a Sydney-based company, and can be used in the early stages of symptom onset (within the first 10 days of infection) to help identify which patients will need hospitalisation/ICU.

“We believe this work will be important for studies down the track in cancer, more specifically head and neck cancers. The lessons learned in the immunological understanding of COVID-19 presentation will enable us to gain new knowledge in how this might affect head and neck cancer patients.”

Congratulations again to Dr Kulasinghe and his team on this innovative work.