Frimley Health NHS Trust
Background The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented demand for testing – for diagnosis and prognosis – as well as for investigation into the impact of the disease on the host metabolism. Sebum sampling has the potential to support both needs by looking at what the virus does to us, rather than looking for the virus itself. Methods In this pilot study taking place as part of the COVID-19 Mass Spectrometry Coalition, sebum samples were collected from 67 hospitalised patients (30 COVID-19 positive and 37 COVID-19 negative) by gauze swab. Lipidomics analysis was carried out using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, identifying 998 reproducible features. Univariate and multivariate statistical analyses were applied to the resulting feature set. Findings Lipid levels were depressed in COVID-19 positive participants, indicative of dyslipidemia; p-values of 0·022 and 0·015 were obtained for triglycerides and ceramides respectively, with effect sizes of 0·44 and 0·57. Partial Least Squares-Discriminant Analysis showed separation of COVID-19 positive and negative participants with sensitivity of 57% and specificity of 68%, improving to 79% and 83% respectively when controlled for confounding comorbidities. Interpretation COVID-19 dysregulates many areas of metabolism; in this work we show that the skin lipidome can be added to the list. Given that samples can be provided quickly and painlessly, we conclude that sebum is worthy of future consideration for clinical sampling.