Researchers are working on a new rapid COVID-19 immunity test

OneAs SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve, it will become increasingly important to know your immune status — both to the vaccine and to the infection.

COVID-19 antibodies are the best representative of disease immunity. But they now require the health care provider to order the test, which must be done at a pharmacy or doctor’s office. The sample is then sent to a lab for analysis – all of which takes time, making the process inconvenient and too burdensome for most people.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found a likely way to make antibody testing much more accessible. They have developed a method that uses widely available and relatively inexpensive blood glucose meters — small devices that read blood sugar from finger pricks — to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. .

In one paper published in June in Journal of the American Chemical SocietyThe team described how they developed a way to attach SARS-CoV-2 antibodies to sugar and then ask a glucose reader to measure that sugar, reflecting antibody levels.

“We can manipulate the contents of the test strip to see if we can,” said Dr. Netz Arroyo, senior author of the paper and assistant professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences. better understand where that immunity comes from and how long it lasts. at Johns Hopkins.

Although antibodies do not make up the entire human immune response to a virus, they are an important window into the protection humans build. Antibodies are generally the first line of defense against bacteria, and once antibodies are produced, other immune cells, including T cells, jump in to expand and enhance the response. response.

Arroyo was inspired to develop the system after recalling 2011 paper he read as a graduate student in 2014 describing a similar system. As the pandemic broke out in 2020, testing was slow and cumbersome, leaving public health officials in the dark about how widespread the virus was and how people’s immunity was developing. “The idea of ​​using a blood glucose meter immediately popped into my head,” he said.

Arroyo and other Johns Hopkins researchers had to work to develop a protein that could stick to the COVID-19 antibody and could be placed on a test strip, then create a way for the blood glucose meter to take a reading. test strips. In the first version, the team used a blood sample, but in the end, a blood smear on the finger was enough for testing, Arroyo said. Researchers are looking for ways to make testing more accessible by using other samples such as saliva or oral swabs, which also contain antibodies.

Another major advantage of the system is that it is generalizable to any infectious agent; Scientists just need to change the target that the line links. “We wanted to innovate in a way that not only impacts this pandemic, but future epidemics,” Arroyo said.

That means the test could also be used to measure monkeypox antibodies and provide doctors with valuable information about blood levels. vaccine, Jynneos, is working, Arroyo said. Vaccine approved based on limited information on human monkeypox — and it now given in a different way to prolong the supply — so being able to easily track antibodies in vaccinated people will help scientists better understand how well and how quickly people work.

Information about SARS-CoV-2 immunity may become even more important in the months and years ahead, as the world learns to live with COVID-19. Understand how long protection lasts after each infection or booster dose will help health authorities give better advice on how often to inject. Because the test can also be tailored to detect different variants, health professionals can also better work out whether the measure that protects people from vaccines is effective against stored variants. most recent act or not.

To detect the antibodies, the researchers’ system currently requires three steps, each of which involves treating the blood for different reactions. But researchers are looking to streamline the process to make it similar to the one-step process that home COVID-19 tests use. The university’s technology venture office will license the test to companies interested in developing it further.

“The goal is to better understand immunity to COVID-19 and other diseases,” Arroyo said. This type of test is a “powerful tool for monitoring what is happening in our population and can inform policy decisions.”

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