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Rapid blood test for antibodies "essentially community tracing using immune status"

In order to find out how many people have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, antibody tests need to be fast, scalable and accurate. A project is underway at NUI Galway to develop a new lab-based test which will measure antibodies in the blood and guide the development of antibody-based vaccines and treatments.

The approach is being described as 'essentially community tracing using immune status'.

About the project

Developing ELISA

The project is being led by John Pius Dalton, Professor of Molecular Parasitology at NUI Galway. He will bring his expertise from his extensive studies of animal and human pathogenic diseases and the development of vaccines and diagnostics.

“Essentially, this is community tracing using immune status, but the information gained is an essential element in the overall control measures employed to stop the spread of disease, as well as understanding its distribution, infectivity and epidemiology”, Professor Dalton explains.

Having a rapid, high-throughput test for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies will mean blood samples from people in Ireland can be analysed to find out more about how widespread exposure to the virus has been, and how the community has developed immunity to it.

The team are therefore developing ELISA, a speedy lab-based test that can measure antibodies in blood and determine whether a person has been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus).

The test will also identify those people who have no antibodies and are possibly more susceptible to infection. It will also categorise people with high levels of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, who could potentially donate their antibodies to people at risk of succumbing to the virus. What is learned about SARS-CoV-2 immunity from the test will be vital for vaccine development.

Already the team have made a short-list of antigens, the features of the virus that prompt antibodies, and will use these as a basis for developing antibody tests that can be rolled out at scale to test large populations.

The project is funded by Ireland's national Rapid Response Research, Development and Innovation programme, via Science Foundation Ireland.

Professor John Pius Dalton, is a renowned scientist in infectious diseases tackling major parasitic diseases of humans and their livestock in NUI Galway. He joined the university as Professor of Molecular Parasitology in 2019 through the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Professorship Programme. He is undertaking a a €5 million research project, which will devise an overall strategy for the development of a novel preventative vaccine of parasitic diseases for both humans and animals.

Professor Dalton was previously Professor of Infectious Disease at Queen’s University of Belfast.

Before this he was a Canada Research Chair in Infectious Diseases at the Institute of Parasitology, McGill University, and Director of McGill’s Graduate Program in Biotechnology. He has also served as Director of the Institute for the Biotechnology of Infectious Diseases, University of Technology Sydney, Australia, where he was awarded the New South Wales Government BioFirst Award in Biotechnology between 2003-2008.

Recently, he was awarded a Royal Society Research Merit Award and European Research Council Advanced Grant Award for his studies of animal and human parasitic diseases and development of vaccines and diagnostics.