COVID-19 antibody testing

Antibody testing is something you may have been hearing a lot about lately. What is it and why is it important? We talked 9Health Expert, Dr. Payal Kohli, along with experts from the University of Colorado School of Medicine on Facebook Live.

Dr. Ashley Frazer-Abel, assistant research professor and director of Exsera BioLabs at CU Anschutz, and Dr. Kevin Deane, associate professor of medicine, talked about the work they’re doing to develop an antibody test for COVID-19.

We should clarify that there are two types of tests on the market right now for COVID-19. One is a nasal swab that looks for an active infection. Those that are tested with a nasal swab are typically symptomatic.

The other type of test is an antibody test. It’s a blood test that looks for an antibody in your bloodstream. An antibody is a protein, also known as an immunoglobulin, and is a marker that your immune system has seen an infection before. In this case, the test is looking for COVID-19 antibodies.

Dr. Ashley Frazer-Abel explained that there are different types of antibody tests as well. There is a finger stick, or point of care test, but she said those are proving to not be very accurate with around 30% of results incorrect.

Dr. Frazer-Abel runs Exsera BioLabs at CU Anschutz and is working with several groups to develop an antibody test, “We’re moving as fast as we can to get a test that we really can believe in,” she said.

The type of test they’re developing is an ELISA style test, she explained, that has increased sensitivity. Results can take longer to receive, but they are more accurate, “It’s very important that the test is specific and tells the right answer. We want over 99% specificity, and that is difficult to achieve,” Dr. Frazer-Abel explained.

It also takes longer to develop that type of test and Dr. Frazer-Abel says they’re still a few weeks away from being able to offer something.

“We’re working together to understand how we can mobilize testing, understand how this virus has affected our society, and importantly, translate all of that into getting us back to work and understanding who is protected from the virus and ultimately how to treat it,” explained Dr. Kevin Deane.

Dr. Deane is among the group working with Dr. Frazer-Abel to develop an antibody test and is also doing research on COVID-19 and how it is affecting the population, “If you have been infected you are going to be valuable to the research community in Colorado so keep your eyes open for ways to help,” he added.

9Health is working with the University of Colorado and other partners to be able to provide an antibody test, “9Health’s mission is prevention, education and community service. We’re really trying to partner with someone like CU to provide widespread education and access to these tests, especially in rural areas of the state,” explained 9Health Expert, Dr. Payal Kohli.

Testing provides the real-life data needed to guide decisions moving forward. The issue right now is test availability. It’s not just about getting test kits, but our experts said the other supplies to perform tests are also in short supply.

What isn’t really known for sure right now is if those with the antibody are immune, “With this coronavirus we don’t have enough information to know whether or not this antibody actually confers immunity,” explained Kohli, “As best as we can tell, using our knowledge of other coronaviruses that are close cousins of this virus, there does seem to be some sort of protection offered from the antibody,” she added.

Other encouraging news, Kohli explained, is that people who donated their COVID-19 antibodies to those that are infected, with a therapy called convalescent plasma, it seemed to offer some protection and helped the sick person recover.  

For now, 9Health, along with CU and other partners, are working to make a difference in recovering from this pandemic.

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