An artificial intelligence (AI) tool that scans for increased blood vessel inflammation could calculate a person’s risk of death from coronavirus and its variants, new research suggests.
The technology can tailor treatment and give people the best chance of recovery, according to research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Severe cases of Covid-19 have been linked to a cytokine storm, in which the virus’s spike protein causes the immune system to overwork, producing a wave of harmful molecules called cytokines.
Using routine CT scans, researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a Covid-19 signature using machine learning.
It detects biological red flags in the fat around blood vessels in the chest to measure the level of inflammation caused by cytokines in people infected with the virus.
“We’ve built an incredibly customizable AI platform that tracks vascular disease by decoding information from blood vessel images routinely acquired during hospitalization and integrating it with a large RNA biosource from human tissue biopsies,” said Charalambos Antoniades, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University. He added:
“By simply adding an extra step to routine care for people hospitalized with Covid-19 who already have a CT scan, we can now help patients at high risk for life-threatening complications.
detect and potentially adapt their treatment to help with long-term recovery.” Antoniades, who is also a BHF senior clinical researcher at Oxford, said the benefits don’t stop there.
“We know that this exaggerated immune response to the virus can also cause abnormal blood clotting, which is why we are developing this AI platform to identify Covid-19 patients most at risk for a future heart attack or stroke.”
He added that the team can also easily run their AI-based platform to develop a new scanning ‘signature’ to better understand future viruses and diseases plaguing our populations.
For the study, the researchers applied the Covid-19 signature to CT chest scans of 435 people admitted to hospitals in Oxford, Leicester and Bath, and compared the degree of inflammation and risk of death in people with and without Covid. -19.
They found that for hospitalized patients, the level of cytokine-driven inflammation in the blood vessels was much higher in patients with Covid-19, and even greater in patients infected with the Kent or alpha variant.
They found that people with high levels of vascular inflammation were up to eight times more likely to die in the hospital and were most likely to respond well to the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone.
Covid-19 patients with high vascular inflammation who were treated with dexamethasone had a six-fold reduction in the risk of death compared with Covid-19 patients who did not receive the drug, the researchers added.
The team said that by using this tool to obtain an inflammation score, patients who have a lot of inflammation in their arteries and are therefore at increased risk of death can receive anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce their risk and improve their long-term recovery.
Professor James Leiper, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “Over the past year we have supported our scientists to use their expertise to help the global efforts to understand Covid-19.
“This research clearly shows that Covid-19 is a potent virus that can wreak havoc on our circulation, and that we associate different variants with different levels of risk.
“There are still many unknowns as to how the virus could affect our health in the long term, but this AI tool could ultimately help save lives.”