A rush to get COVID-19 antibody tests out may have set us back in our efforts to accurately test for the virus.
In March, the FDA allowed antibody tests to come into the U.S. without review. But too many false positives proved detrimental in helping to know who had COVID. It also slowed the government’s ability to accurately track the spread of the virus.
Now, many universities and labs across the country are working to change that.
Test, after test, after test, is failing to accurately test for COVID-19 antibodies. The problem? The need for fast, accurate, and available tests.
“When it comes to our immune system’s ability to fight things long-term, the antibodies are key,” said Dr. Ashley Frazer-Abel, assistant professor from the University of Colorado School of Medicine at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
An antibody is a protein in the immune system that fights infection.
“They’re also key for us to know whether you’ve had the infection, which is where I’ve stepped into the process,” Frazer-Abel said.
To create an accurate antibody test, you have to create a protein that antibodies will be attracted to. So, the researchers grew something called a spike protein.
“One of the things that makes it special is that we’re testing for two different proteins on the virus,” explained Dr. Brian Harry, a pathologist from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
When a patient’s blood is drawn, it’s tested to measure antibodies and antigens. If the test is positive, the color of the sample changes. Results are available within two hours and most importantly, have a 99.6% accuracy rate.
“We want to make sure that people who are concerned about maybe having had the virus or are very curious, have access to a test that will give them likely a very accurate result,” Harry said.
The information they get from this test may also help determine how long antibodies will last.
“It does seem to be relative to how strong your disease was. If you’re hospitalized, you’re on ICU, you’re probably going to come out with antibodies,” Frazer-Abel said.
Experts believe the answer will be antibodies against COVID will last months, not years.
The new test is supply chain independent. The proteins used for testing are made in the lab on campus and the blood is tested on campus. So they don’t have to compete with other countries or states to get supplies. The same approach has been taken at other leading medical centers including Mount Sinai and Stanford.