A company based in Wales is helping in the fight against coronavirus after its clinical laboratory diagnostic equipment has been shown to have a key use for medical teams treating Covid-19 patients.
Benson Viscometers, based in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, designs and manufactures clinical viscometers which are used in the NHS and in the USA to test the viscosity (or thickness) of bodily fluids, notably blood plasma, serum, whole blood and synovial fluid. The plasma viscosity test is an important diagnostic aid for a range of conditions and has now been identified by scientists as important in monitoring critically ill Covid-19 patients.
In Covid-19 patients a rise in plasma viscosity is due to an increased concentration of a clotting (coagulation) protein called fibrinogen. This raised level of fibrinogen increases the risk of a blood clot forming (thrombosis) and could explain why a large proportion of the deaths from Covid-19 are from thrombotic episodes.
A paper in The Lancet on May 25th associates very high plasma viscosity in critically ill Covid-19 patients with thrombotic complications.
An article in Newsweek on May 28th further explored this study and the links between plasma viscosity and Covid-19. The critically-ill Covid-19 patients studied had plasma viscosity levels 95 percent higher than normal, and more than 25 percent had blood clot-related complications. The researchers also found a strong correlation between plasma viscosity levels and the severity of the patients’ illness.
Several UK hospitals such as Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, University College London Hospital and St Thomas's in London, which are at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19, are conducting research into the value of measuring plasma viscosity in Covid-19 patients for diagnosis and prognosis. As higher plasma viscosity is linked to higher levels of complications, the test can aid early identification of patients who are likely to have more severe symptoms.
The plasma viscosity test is also being used to monitor inflammatory status in the specific types of Covid-19 patients.
Deepak Singh, Head of Department, Haematosis, at Health Service Laboratories, London, said:
“We are running plasma viscosity now to monitor inflammatory status in the following patient groups:
1. Those with high risk TIA (transient ischaemic attack) commenced on DAPT (dual
2. Those with treatment failure on anti-platelet therapy
3. Those with high risk carotid/vertebral or intracranial stenosis
This is to ensure anti-platelet drug therapy efficacy.”
Laboratories all around the world are now discussing the role plasma viscosity can play in monitoring the progression of Covid-19 to develop a more scientifically targeted treatment for patients and produce improved recovery outcomes.
Gregory Sloop, Associate Professor of Pathology, Idaho, writes ‘COVID-19 has challenged physicians in the front lines more than any viral illness since AIDS. Regarding the unusual presentations of COVID-19, Yale School of Medicine cardiologist Harlan Krumholz, M.D. said “Our ignorance is profound”. Much of this mystery stems from ignoring blood viscosity. Because blood viscosity is inversely related to blood flow, elevated blood viscosity increases the risk of clotting and causes hypoxemia. AIDS spurred medical science to advance, as will COVID-19.’
Benson Viscometers is the UK and Ireland market leader for clinical viscometers which are of particular benefit when laboratory staff are testing high risk samples, such as Covid-19. For example, to minimise direct exposure to the biological fluid, the Benson viscometers use ‘closed vial’ sampling, which does not require the sample tube cap to be removed.
The creator of the Benson clinical viscometers, Bernie Benson, said:
“Amidst the huge strain and challenges caused by this global pandemic, we are grateful that we are able to make a positive contribution to improving patient outcomes. The plasma viscosity test is highly valued and routinely used by many eminent UK hospitals for a range of conditions, but it is still under-utilised in other UK settings as well as the rest of the world. We believe that the plasma viscosity test will lead to a significant breakthrough in outcomes for critically ill patients and that the world is now waking up to the huge value of this test in general.
These clinical viscometers are designed and manufactured in the UK, and the UK has a unique opportunity to fully utilise the readily available advanced technology to progress research in this field.