A UK-based research team has identified a key inflammatory protein which could be linked to severe COVID-19, according to findings published in Science Immunology yesterday.

The team, led by Imperial College London, University of Edinburgh and University of Liverpool, performed an analysis of more than 500 COVID-19 patients across the UK.

They then identified several inflammatory markers in the blood of patients, which were found to increase in the early stages of COVID-19 in people who progressed to critical conditions.

In particular, the researchers identified a cytokine called GM-CSF which was found to be present at higher levels in people who went on to develop severe COVID-19.

This protein was also found to be almost ten times higher in those who died from COVID-19, the researchers discovered.

The team believes that increased GM-CSF could help to identify the people most at risk of developing severe COVID-19 and could also provide a target for new treatments.

“In future studies, we need to determine whether elevated levels of this protein in the blood at an early stage allows us to identify patients at increased risk of becoming very ill and may benefit most from receiving targeted treatments aimed at GM-CSF,” said Ryan Thwaites, National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London.