corona virus-Covid19

COVID-19 Causes Marked Reduction in Skin Sebum Profile Interview with:


Matt Spick

Matt Spick, Post-Graduate Researcher
University of Surrey
Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Guildford, UK What is the background for this study? Are you measuring lipids or the virus?

Response: In this study, we aimed to detect what the virus does to us, rather than the virus itself. The gold standard for detecting COVID-19 is the RT-PCR test, but by their nature, PCR tests only provide diagnostic information, and at times during the pandemic the availability of PCR tests has been a bottleneck for the identification of the disease. Our goal was to investigate a novel method for the diagnosis of COVID-19, at the same time as learning more about what the disease does to us through lipidomics. What are the main findings?

Response: The main finding was that COVID-19 disrupts the skin lipidome, with reductions in the levels of several triglyceride and ceramide species. Given that COVID-19 disrupts overall metabolism and has an impact on so many of its host’s organs, this was perhaps to be expected, but the change in sebum profile was marked. As well as an overall accuracy in diagnosing COVID-19 of 82% (when controlled for comorbidities) we found it notable that our analysis differentiated between individuals with COVID-19 (confirmed by clinical diagnosis and RT-PCR) and age-matched hospitalized patients. In other words, this suggests that the differences are specific to this illness rather than poor health in general. We also found that the dysregulation was particularly marked with lipids including odd-chain fatty acids. Whilst odd-chain fatty acids are less common in serum, for example, they are over-represented in the stratum corneum, where they are associated with barrier function and potentially with protective bacterial interactions. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Specific to this research, we think greater understanding of the atlas of COVID-19’s impact on its hosts is important to fully understand the impact the disease can have. More broadly, the study of the skin lipidome is a relatively new area in the search for greater understanding of disease and illness, but recently a number of strides have been made in this area. As well as our work showing that COVID-19 disrupts the skin lipidome, our co-authors at the University of Manchester have just published research showing that the sebum of individuals with Parkinson’s Disease can also be used for diagnosis. Because sebum can be sampled non-invasively and quickly, and is easy and cheap to transport, we believe that sampling and analysis of sebum will in the future be a rich source of information on health. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Our work is a pilot study, and we did face challenges due to recruiting participants in a pandemic situation. In addition, whilst we have identified potential lipid biomarkers, these have not been validated by an independent study. We expect that larger studies will be crucial to develop understanding of what COVID-19 does to us, including to our skin, and potentially also to link the changes seen in the sebum lipidome to the changes we see in other biofluids such as saliva or serum. We also think that sebum is more broadly worthy of consideration for clinical sampling in other illnesses.

No disclosures


Changes to the sebum lipidome upon COVID-19 infection observed via rapid sampling from the skin
Spick, Matt et al.
EClinicalMedicine, Volume 0, Issue 0, 100786 

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Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD