The Importance of Diagnostic Testing in SARS-CoV-2 Adverse Outcomes
SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), a newly discovered and highly contagious disease, primarily manifests as an acute respiratory illness, however, for those with health complications, including: autoimmune diseases, asthma, heart disease and diabetes, the risk of developing serious illness and adverse outcomes is much greater. It is estimated that 1 in 6 will experience adverse outcomes that could be life-threatening 1. The spread and devastation of COVID-19 highlights the vital role laboratory diagnostics plays in the diagnosis and management of suspected and affected patients. As the COVID pandemic continues, it is imperative that fast and accurate diagnostic testing strategies are implemented for effective risk stratification and monitoring of treatment and recovery.
In this article, we will review how Randox Reagents can aid in diagnosing and managing SARS-CoV-2 adverse outcomes.
The immune system activates a pro-inflammatory response to enhance host immunity against viruses and decrease colonisation and infection, but only if the pro-inflammatory response is controlled. Uncontrolled pro-inflammatory responses can result in a cytokine storm 2. A cytokine storm is a serious complication associated with SARS-CoV-2, which can trigger life-threatening pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and multiple organ failure 3, 4. Cytokine storms occur in 5% of severe COVID-19 cases, with several inflammatory cytokines observed at high levels. Due to the elevation of several pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, a multiplex immunoassay approach can offer several advantages over the widely utilised single ELISA tests. The simultaneous detection of multiple cytokines from a single patient sample will provide clinicians with a comprehensive overview of cytokine markers and complete patient profile, facilitating a personalised treatment plan to be implemented 5, 6.
In COVID-19 patients, CRP testing has proved to perform well in discriminating disease severity and predicting adverse outcomes 7. Elevated CRP levels have been identified in 86% of patients admitted to hospital. CRP measurements are useful in diagnosis, prognosis and monitoring for clinical improvements or deterioration. Moreover, the acute phase reactant, ferritin, has been observed to increase in approximately 60% of COVID-19 patients. In the critically ill COVID-19 patients, extremely elevated ferritin concentrations were recorded, which could be attributed to a cytokine storm and secondary haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (a hyper-inflammatory syndrome associated with multi-organ failure) 8.
Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a common complication in diabetic patients who test positive for COVID-19. Regardless, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend AKI testing in all COVID-19 patients upon hospital admission and their condition monitored throughout their stay 9.
The most commonly utilised screening test for renal impairment is serum creatinine (SCr); however, it is important to consider the accuracy and reliability of the method. Two commercially available methods exist for SCr determination: Jaffe and enzymatic. Whilst the Jaffe method is less expensive, it is more susceptible to interferences which can lead to the misdiagnosis of patients, which isn’t ideal in the current pandemic 7. Moreover, the sensitivity of SCr, regardless of method, in the early detection of renal disease is poor, as SCr is insensitive to small changes in glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Up to 50% of renal function can potentially be lost before significant SCr levels become detectable 8, 9. In comparison, cystatin C (CysC) is a superior marker of renal function and is useful in the determination of the extent of renal damage, as well as distinguishing those with severe and mild COVID-19 10.
Abnormal liver function tests significantly increases a COVID-19 patients risk of developing severe disease and complications such as pneumonia 11. Bilirubin levels, 3 times the upper limit have been observed in COVID-19 patients 11, 12. Whilst the diazo method is commonly utilised in bilirubin testing, superior methods exist. The vanadate oxidation (VO) method offers several advantages particularly in haemolytic and lipemic samples. These advantages are particularly evident in neonatal and infant populations where haemolysis is extremely common. Moreover, the VO method offers a wider analytical measurement range for the comfortable detection of clinically important results 13.
Other liver function markers are known to be elevated in COVID-19 patients including both AST and ALT, with markers like albumin decreased.
The Importance of Lp(a) Testing
Lipoprotein(a) / Lp(a), a strong independent marker of cardiovascular disease risk has recently been identified as a key risk marker of cardiovascular complications in COVID-19 patients. Those with either baseline elevated or elevated levels of Lp(a) following COVID-19 infection may be at a significantly increased risk of developing thromboses. Consideration should be given to measurement of Lp(a) and prophylactic anticoagulation of infected patients to reduce the risk. Elevated Lp(a) levels may also cause acute destabilization of pre-existing but quiescent, atherosclerotic plaques, which could induce an acute myocardial infarction (AMI) or cerebrovascular accident (CVA) (stroke) 14.
The size heterogeneity of apo(a) isoforms represents the biggest challenge faced by laboratories in accurately measuring Lp(a). The variable numbers of repeated KIV-2 units in act as multiple epitopes, and so standardisation across calibrators is vital. Unless the calibrants have the same range of isoforms as test samples, those with higher numbers of the KIV-2 repeat, will represent with an overestimation in Lp(a) concentrations and those with smaller numbers of the KIV-2 repeat, will represent with an underestimation. The smaller isoforms are strongly associated with higher Lp(a) concentrations 15.
Lp(a) assays that are standardised to the WHO/IFCC (World Health Organization/International Federation of Clinical Chemistry) reference material, transferring values from mg/dl to nmol/l are more uniform. The assay considered the most reliable commercially available Lp(a) assay is so because: 15
1. The isoform size variations are reduced as a range of calibrators from separate pools of serum used, which covered a range of Lp(a) concentrations.
2. The isoform size and concentrations are inversely correlated, better matching calibrants with test samples.
3. Methods are calibrated in nmol/l and traceable to WHO/IFCC reference material and give acceptable bias compared with the Northwest Lipid Metabolism and Diabetes Research Laboratory (NLMDRKL) gold standard method.
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Qnostics SARS-CoV-2 Control
 Complications coronavirus can cause. https://www.webmd.com/lung/coronavirus-complications#1 (accessed 22 July 2020).
 Sinha P, Matthey MA, Calfee CS. Is a “cytokine storm” relevant to COVID-19? JAMA 2020; (): 1-3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2767939#:~:text=Why%20has%20the%20%E2%80%9Ccytokine%20storm,and%20associated%20with%20adverse%20outcomes.&text=Several%20early%20case%20series%20in,elevated%20above%20the%20normal%20range. (accessed 22 July 2020).
 Del Valle DM, Kim-Schulze S, Huang HH, Beckmann M, Nirenberg S, et al. An inflammatory cytokine signature helps predict COVID-19 severity and death. The Preprint Server for Health Sciences https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.28.20115758v1.full.pdf (accessed 24 July 2020).
 The Royal College of Pathologists. Guidance on the use and interpretation of clinical biochemistry tests in patients with COVID-19 infection. https://www.rcpath.org/uploads/assets/3f1048e5-22ea-4bda-953af20671771524/G217-RCPath-guidance-on-use-and-interpretation-of-clinical-biochemistry-tests-in-patients-with-COVID-19-infection.pdf (accessed 14 June 2020).
 Dhungana N, Morris C, Krasowski MD. Operational impact of using a vanadate oxidase method for direct bilirubin measurements at an academic medical center clinical laboratory. Practical Laboratory Medicine 2017; 8(2017): 77-85.
 Moriarty PM, Gorby LK, Stroes ES, Kastelein JP, Davidson M, et al. Lipoprotein(a) and its potential association with thrombosis and inflammation in COVID-19: a testable hypothesis. Current Atherosclerosis Reports 2020; 22(48): 1-8.
Rheumatoid Factor: The Most Remarkable Autoantibody in Rheumatoid Arthritis
The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) launched the ‘Don’t Delay, Connect Today’ campaign in 2017, continuing into 2019 for World Arthritis Day. The day is a global awareness day focusing on promoting the symptoms associated with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs). Moreover, the world awareness day focuses on the importance of early diagnosis and access to care 1. Randox Reagents fully supports the importance of early diagnosis which aids in the early implementation of effective treatment plans, aiding in improved health outcomes. On this World Arthritis Day, Randox Reagents will delve deeper into rheumatoid factor (RF), the most remarkable autoantibody in rheumatoid arthritis.
Pathobiology of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), “the most common systemic inflammatory autoimmune disease” affecting 1% of the global population, is characterised by fatigue, synovial joint pain, stiffness, swelling and destruction, with severe symptoms resulting in disability. Whilst the exact cause of RA is unknown, it is believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in triggering the disease 2, 3. Differences in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DRB1 alleles (proteins with a critical role in the immune system) have been identified as a genetic variant for RA, observed in >80% of patients, particularly in those testing positive for RF. Moreover, those with variations in the HLA-DRB1 who smoke, increase their risk of RA. As RA is more common in women (2-fold increased risk in women compared to men), hormonal influences are an area of active research, however, an inverse correlation with breastfeeding has been identified. Women who breastfeed for >13 months aids in reducing the risk of RA compared to women who have never breastfed 3, 4.
The pathophysiology of RA involves various signalling pathways and immune modulators (effector cells and cytokines) as indicated in figure 1. Joint destruction is caused by the intricate interactions of immune modulators, beginning at the synovial membrane and encompassing most IA structures, with synovitis caused by both or individually, the local activation or influx of mononuclear cells, including: B cells, T cells, dendritic cells, plasma cells, mast cells and macrophages. Consequently, “the synovial lining becomes hyperplastic, and the synovial membrane expands and forms villi”. The neutrophils, chondrocytes and synoviocytes secrete enzymes that degrades the cartilage in the joint whereas the osteoclast-rich area of the synovial membrane destroys the bone 4.
Figure 1: Schematic view of (a) a normal joint and (b) a joint affected by RA 4
Clinical Significance of Rheumatoid Factor (RF)
Interestingly, elevated levels of RF have been observed in other autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren syndrome and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) as well as non-autoimmune conditions including old age and chronic infections. Despite this, RF in RA patients can be distinguished from RF in healthy individuals. RF in RA patients displays affinity maturation whereas RF in healthy individuals has low affinity and are polyreactive 2.
RF is a class of immunoglobulin (Ig) autoantibodies that are directed against the fragment crystallizable region (Fc region), the tail region of the IgG antibody. In RA, RF are produced by the B cells present in lymphoid follicles and the germinal center(GC)-like structures that mature in inflamed synovium. Most RF are IgM antibodies, but may also be IgG or IgA isoforms. IgM RF are detected in 60% to 80% of RA patients. “RF testing in RA patients has a sensitivity of 60% to 90% and a specificity of 85%” (5). RF is a highly valuable biomarker in RA 5, 2.
Key Features of the Randox Rheumatoid Factor Assay
The Randox automated latex enhanced immunoturbidimetric rheumatoid factor assay provides an accurate assessment of RF titre as the Randox rheumatoid factor calibrator is standardised against the primary WHO material, 1st British Standard 64/2. With a wide measuring range of 6.72 – 104lU/ml for the comfortable detection of clinically important results, the Randox RF assay is available in a liquid ready-to-use format for the comfortable detection of clinically important results. The Randox rheumatoid factor assay does not suffer from interference from C1q complement and is stable until expiry date. With dedicated calibrator and controls for a complete testing package, Randox offer applications, detailing instrument-specific settings for the convenient use of the Randox rheumatoid factor assay on a wide range of clinical chemistry analysers.
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