A surge of pro-inflammatory cytokines, intense, and sustained inflammation leading to organ damage and a high risk of death. The cytokine storms associated with severe COVID cases are dangerous, but manageable if caught early.
“Especially now in the context of COVID-19, if you could monitor pro-inflammatory cytokines and see them trending upwards, you could treat patients early, even before they develop symptoms,” said Shalini Prasad, a researcher from the University of Texas.
Prasad and colleagues have created a sweat sensor, which when worn on a patient’s skin, continuously measures cytokine hours for a week, alerting healthcare professionals to a possible incoming storm.
Currently, blood tests are used to monitor cytokine levels. However, this method is like taking a series of photographs. Continuous monitoring through sweat sensing, however, is akin to recording a video, providing a richer, more accurate source of diagnostic data to patient management teams. The research was presented at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
The newly-developed device, called the SWEATSENSER Dx, currently tracks levels of seven different cytokines including interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein, which are known to play central roles in the systemic inflammatory response. The SWEATSENSER Dx is also remarkably sensitive and is capable of picking up sweat cytokines in the low-picogram-per-milliliter concentration range even in patients taking anti-inflammatory medications.
According to Prasad, the pandemic has made testing the device in patients difficult. “Access to COVID-19 patients has been a challenge because healthcare workers are overwhelmed and don’t have time to test investigational devices,” said Prasad. “But we’re going to continue to test it for all respiratory infections because the disease trigger itself doesn’t matter – it’s what’s happening with the cytokines that we’re interested in monitoring.”