Munir RahimBiology professor Munir Rahim is leading a research team analyzing swabs taken from patients infected with COVID-19 for proteins released by immune cells in the lungs. The proteins could offer early warning that patients could suffer severe respiratory complications.

UWindsor researchers looking for earlier warnings of COVID complications

Three UWindsor researchers are studying specific proteins in the lungs as an early warning system for COVID-19 complications.

Biology professors Munir Rahim and Lisa Porter and biochemistry professor Yufeng Tong are researching pro-inflammatory cytokines— microscopic proteins released by immune cells when the lungs are infected with a virus.

The production of pro-inflammatory cytokines is part of the body’s response in defending itself against viruses and repairing damaged tissue, Dr. Rahim explained. However, excessive release of cytokines can cause hyper-inflammation. Hyper-inflammation can cause damage to the lung tissue, resulting in the respiratory distress and respiratory failure seen in patients who develop severe cases of COVID-19.

“Early detection of pro-inflammatory cytokines in confirmed COVID-19 patients could provide important information about disease progression and inform appropriate early intervention,” Rahim said.

“The overall goal of this project is to determine the type and levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in swabs taken from suspected COVID-19 patients.”

COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a type of corona virus. It has already claimed 650,000 lives worldwide, a figure that climbs by thousands each day.

Rahim and his research partners have already begun analyzing samples taken from patients swabbed at the COVID Assessment Centre at Windsor Regional Hospital. Findings will be shared with clinicians, giving them vital information on which to base treatment.

The project has been awarded a $10,000 grant by UWindsor’s Office of the Vice-President of Research and Innovation and the WE-Spark Health Institute, a research partnership involving the University of Windsor, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College.

It is one of 21 local COVID-related projects WE-Spark is funding through its COVID-19 Rapid Response grant program.

Rahim said he hopes to have the research project wrapped up by fall.

—Sarah Sacheli