Research published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases demonstrates how Dr Stephen Smith and his team have created a novel way to identify immunity against COVID-19.
When a person becomes infected with the novel coronavirus, the viral spike protein binds to the ACE2 protein on the surface of human cells.
This leads to a person either becoming a carrier of the disease, or becoming ill.
Symptoms of illness include a new, continuous cough, fever, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.
Should a person become immune to the notorious virus, neutralising antibodies block the coronavirus spike protein from binding onto the ACE2 protein.
This is thought to contribute to immunity to coronavirus in people who recover from COVID-19.
Dr Smith created an innovate way to test for immunity, using a technique called immunoprecipitation – detected by flow cytometry (IP-FCM).
This method enables observation of the interaction between the proteins.
Yet, unlike blood work – which can take three days to test for immunity – Dr Smith’s metros uses lab-made proteins that can reveal immunity overnight.
“Other tests that provide insight into immunity work by taking antibodies from your blood and mixing them together with a virus and then exposing that mixture to live cells,” explained Dr Smith.
“Three days later they can determine immunity based on whether your blood prevented the viruses from infecting the cells or not.”
He added: “Our cell-free test can provide that same information overnight.”
This suggests the newly developed diagnostic tool could have a range of commercial applications.
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For example, it may be the way forward for broad community testing and assessing vaccine responses.
Another possibility is that the test could screen for plasmas that have high levels of neutralising antibodies, which can be used as potential treatment.
Based at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Dr Smith collaborated with Dr Lisa Frenkle and Dr Whitney Harrington.
Dr Frenkle and Dr Harrington were based at the Global Infectious Disease Research arm of the research institute.
For their immunity study, they enrolled 24 fellow colleagues who had contracted the virus.
The participants were never hospitalised for the disease and had successfully recovered from mild to moderate COVID-19.
Utilising IP-FCM, the researcher found that 92 percent of them had developed antibodies to the disease.
Their immunity was seen, on average, to still be in tact a month post-infection.
“Not only did the participants have antibodies, but our test also showed that their antibodies were effective at neutralising the binding between the spike protein and the cell’s receptor,” Dr Smith commented.
“It’s consistent with other studies from cell-based tests showing that people who get COVID do make neutralising antibodies.”
Dr Smith added: “It’s going to be very important to look at people over a longer time period to track their antibody levels and whether or not they get re-infected.
“Until we do those studies, we really don’t know how these clinical measures of antibody neutralization relate to susceptibility in the real world.”