Non-invasive skin swab samples may detect COVID-19

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Researchers at the University of Surrey have found that non-invasive skin swab samples may be enough to detect COVID-19.

The most widely used approach to testing for COVID-19 requires a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which involves taking a swab of the back of the throat and far inside the nose.

In a paper published by Lancet E Clinical Medicine, chemists from Surrey teamed up with Frimley NHS Trust and the Universities of Manchester and Leicester to collect sebum samples from 67 hospitalised patients – 30 who had tested positive for COVID-19 and 37 who had tested negative.

The samples were collected by gently swabbing a skin area rich in sebum – an oily, waxy substance produced by the body’s sebaceous glands – such as the face, neck or back.

The researchers analysed the samples by using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry and a statistical modelling technique called Partial Least Squares – Discriminant Analysis to differentiate between the COVID-19 positive and negative samples.

The Surrey team then found that patients with a positive COVID-19 test had lower lipid levels – or dyslipidemia – than their counterparts with a negative test. The accuracy of the study’s results increased further when medication and additional health conditions were controlled.

Dr. Melanie Bailey, co-author of the study from the University of Surrey, said:

“Unfortunately, the spectre of future pandemics is firmly on the top of the agenda for the scientific community. Our study suggests that we may be able to use non-invasive means to test for diseases such as COVID-19 in the future – a development which I am sure will be welcomed by all.”

Matt Spick, co-author of the study from the University of Surrey, said:”COVID-19 damages many areas of metabolism. In this work, we show that the skin lipidome can be added to the list, which could have implications for the skin’s barrier function, as well as being a detectable symptom of the disease itself.”

Dr. George Evetts, Consultant in Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine at Frimley Park Hospital, said:”Investigating new methods of diagnosis and surveillance in a new disease such as COVID-19 that has had such a devastating effect on the world is vital.

Sebum sampling is a simple, non-invasive method that shows promise for both diagnostics and monitoring of the disease in both a healthcare and a non-healthcare setting.”


The recent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak has spread rapidly and has affected the world for almost a year, causing immense economic and social difficulties. Despite efforts to develop vaccines and new treatments, preventing COVID-19 remains challenging and no clear treatment options exist.

As of September 11, 2020, roughly 28 million people worldwide have been infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, and more than 900,000 people have died. With some exceptions, most deaths are thought to be related to underlying comorbidities.1

Therefore, identifying the risk factors related to severe COVID-19 is important to enable stratification of risk in advance, to optimize the reallocation of medical resources, and to improve patients’ overall prognoses.

As SARS-CoV-2 primarily attacks the respiratory tract, several studies have investigated the relationship between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,2 asthma,3 or smoking,4 and the severity of COVID-19. However, it has also been found that patients with underlying cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular disease risk factors have a high risk of a severe course of illness or mortality due to COVID-19.5,6,7

COVID-19 can also have various cardiovascular manifestations such as myocardial injury, arrhythmias, acute coronary syndrome, and venous thromboembolism.8 Several observational studies and meta-analyses have shown that underlying cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension clearly increase the severity and mortality of COVID-19.9,10,11

However, unlike diabetes and hypertension, relatively few studies have been conducted on dyslipidemia, one of the most important risk factors of cardiovascular disease. Several observational studies have reported an association between high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels and the severity of COVID-1912,13; however, the results are inconsistent.

To date, multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses have been published analyzing the potential link between presence of dyslipidemia and the severity of COVID-19. However, to our knowledge, no attempt has been made to summarize the evidence from these systematic reviews.

Therefore, systematically and comprehensively re-evaluated the evidence to provide an overview of the association between dyslipidemia and COVID-19 severity. Specifically, we conducted an umbrella review to evaluate the findings of systematic reviews and/or meta-analyses that investigated the relationship of dyslipidemia and severity of COVID-19 infection and to assess the evidence regarding potential limitations and the consistency of findings.

reference link : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7521969/


More information: Matt Spick et al, Changes to the sebum lipidome upon COVID-19 infection observed via rapid sampling from the skin, EClinicalMedicine (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.100786

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