Frontline and healthcare workers are at high risk of developing COVID-19 in the current pandemic. Using swab tests to detect the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV2), we can tell who is currently infected, but this does not tell us who goes on to develop immunity to future re-infection.

A research team from Trinity College Dublin, led by Dr Gareth Brady and Dr William McCormack, are to establish a serology test for COVID-19 that will screen for antibodies to the virus and identify those who have been infected.

The project, which will be conducted in the Trinity Translational Medicine Institute (TTMI), is funded by Science Foundation Ireland under the State’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding programme.

While several COVID-19 virus antibody tests are under development internationally, few have been validated, and those that have are both costly and in high demand worldwide. This new research project in Ireland will focus on validating an existing serology test for SARS-CoV2 antibodies.

Partnering with a UK-based CRO (Peak Proteins) to produce quality recombinant antigens for the assay, the team will validate the test using positive samples from the SJH/TTMI COVID BioResource (Professors Niall Conlon, Cliona Ni Cheallaigh & Aideen Long) before evaluating the test on a broader population base.

If successful, the result will be a test that can quickly and cost-effectively screen the Irish population, including healthcare and frontline workers, for post-infection immunity.

What is the issue?

We don’t know how many frontline and healthcare workers in Ireland have developed antibodies and immunity to the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV2. For this, we need a reliable test to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV2 in the body. Few reliable tests are currently available, and those in use are both expensive and in high demand.

What will the research do?

The research, led by Trinity College Dublin, will develop an existing test for SARS-CoV2 antibodies for use in Ireland. It will screen blood samples from patients in Ireland who have had COVID-19, to see if antibodies can be detected.

What will the impact be?

The research will develop a quick and cost-effective antibody test for use in Ireland to screen for immunity to future infection with the COVID-19 virus. This will help us to identify individuals who are likely to be immune, and who can more safely work with members of the public and with patients.

Speaking about the exciting development, Dr Gareth Brady & Dr William McCormack, said:

“We have linked up with a very experienced, UK-based CRO to produce high quality recombinant antigen for this SARS-CoV2 serology test. The assay we seek to replicate has recently been approved by the FDA and we are confident of delivering a highly sensitive and specific assay that will be cost-effective and could be used to screen the Irish public for SARS-CoV2 immunity.”

[This article was first published on the Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin, School of Medicine, Research News, COVID News Spotlight]