University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic combine to offer antibody test
The University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic may soon release an antibody test that can determine if people have already been infected by the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 and are no longer threats to get or spread the infection. The tests could play a key role in not only Minnesota’s pandemic response, but could offer unprecedented relief within the pandemic recovery because they could define the breadth of the outbreak and maybe identify previously infected individuals who could move about in public freely and volunteer in response efforts.
“[The test] gives us the ability [to know] who wouldn’t need to be quarantined, who could be out and not infecting others,” Governor Tim Walz said on Monday.Advertisement
Antibodies, proteins produced by the immune system in response to infections, can be found through tests of blood serum — the clear liquid that separates out when blood clots. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the current pandemic, antibodies don’t show up in sufficient quantities for eight to 11 days. That makes antibody testing ineffective for the purpose of early diagnosis, but a potentially powerful tool for identifying anyone who was infected, whether they had symptoms or not.
“In theory, you probably want to test everybody in the country,” said Marc Jenkins, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Immunology.
Testing could be particularly important for health care workers, whose infection risks could be heightened if they run out of protective masks and face shields when working with any surge of COVID-19 patients. If they’ve already been infected, those workers could have immunity — although there is only limited evidence so far that people cannot be reinfected by this coronavirus. Scientists across the country are rushing to develop antibody tests, with many regulations and protocols relaxed due to the urgency and serious nature of COVID-19. Jenkins has said he wants to see successful results for at least 10 positive and 10 negative specimens before proceeding with pursuing public use.
“It’s going to take a lot more samples to validate the test,” said Jenkins. “But we have a pipeline to do it, and the early results were so clean that I’m pretty hopeful.”
SOURCE: Star Tribune