Symbiotica, Inc.’s Susan Zneimer and Donna Hongo underscore the critical need for antibody testing during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many Americans, the threat of Covid-19 has meant wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. Researchers, however, view the pandemic through a different lens. A crucial part of their work centers on antibodies.
“An antibody is a protein produced by the body’s immune system when it detects harmful substances, called antigens,” says Hongo. “ Examples of antigens include microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses, and chemicals which can cause disease. Antibodies attach to antigens so that they can rid those harmful substances from the body.”
“Antibodies can take days or weeks to develop in the body following exposure to a SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection or other infections from foreign substances, and it’s unknown how long the antibodies will stay in the body
blood,” adds Zneimer.
Navigating new territory
“This novel coronavirus is new to the human population, so there are many unknowns about how we respond to it,” Hongo explains. “Some people make many antibodies that are very good at recognizing the antigen and binding to it. Other people make antibodies, but they’re not as effective at binding to the pathogen. In this situation, the antibodies only provide partial protection. There are also some people who either produce very little or very poor quality antibodies.
“In this case, although these people produce antibodies, the immunity is not very effective, so they can experience prolonged infection with more severe symptoms. They are also likely to be re-infected at a later point in time. Knowing or establishing which category you fall in is important in staying healthy and keeping everyone around you safe and healthy as well.”
Zneimer believes most people don’t realize the role antibody testing plays in ending the pandemic.
“At this time, very little communication has been given by the CDC or FDA regarding antibody testing for COVID19. It will be important to educate the public about the significance of antibody testing and the benefit for people to know their immune status for COVID19. To end this pandemic, it is not enough to test for COVID19 infection status, or get vaccinated. It’s also very important to realize people need to have antibody protection in order not to get infected again by the virus.”
Zneimer says it’s important for everyone to understand that with this antibody test, the sample needed can be obtained with self-collection of a few drops of blood, rather than needing to go to a laboratory to have a phlebotomist draw blood into a tube, which can be painful, inconvenient and sometimes ineffective.
Says Hongo, “More and more tests are available with on-line physician services, so people don’t need to go to a doctor to talk about their healthcare.”
The need for testing
After the first wave of vaccinations, or herd immunity in the population, it will be essential to test people periodically to determine how long antibodies to COVID19 remain in their immune system to protect them from another COVID infection.
“This can only be done by constant surveillance of people for their
IgG antibody status. It will become even more important in the fall and winter when flu and other viruses, such as COVID19 flourish,” says Zneimer.
Zneimer believes the future for antibody testing is promising.
“The field is advancing on the diagnosis of more and more disorders through antibody testing, and also with this pandemic, we are learning how important a role this testing is in eliminating the risk for a further outbreak, as well as help prevent future outbreaks.”