DAVIS (CBS13) – Why do some coronavirus patients recover, while others don’t? It’s a question that has confounded doctors until now, as researchers at UC Davis say they may have uncovered the reason why.

Scientists found a special biomarker in blood plasma that can predict the severity of COVID cases. It’s an important clue they say could help pave a new path when it comes to treatment.

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“We think, in one hand, we have found a biomarker that says somebody is heading toward respiratory distress,” said Professor Bruce Hammock, of UC Davis. “We may also have a lead on how to treat the disease.”

Hammock says the biomarker is in one of the most common dietary fats, and when our bodies are under extreme stress – like when fighting the coronavirus – it can lead to what’s known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (or ARDS). This causes fluid to build up in the lungs and it is the second leading cause of death in COVID patients.

“So, if we can block the production of that metabolite, then there’s a possibility that we can block the pulmonary or the respiratory involvement in COVID,” Hammock said.

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The new findings come after a year-long study of some of the first COVID patients in the Sacramento region. The results, Hammock says, could be key – not only in early detection, but in treatment.

“Either by nutritional intervention, pharmaceutical intervention, or by both,” he said.

These scientists are piecing together a complex pandemic puzzle with some promising new insight in our own backyard.

“Every scientist thinks their latest discovery is going to save the world, and we’re no exception,” Hammock said.

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The findings of the study are published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.