UT Health Science Center works to develop antibody test to detect coronavirus

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Researchers at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center are working to develop a test that would check blood samples for antibodies indicating previous exposure to coronavirus.

By now, the terrible consequences of getting COVID-19 are well-known: coughing, difficulty breathing and, in some cases, death.

But in most cases, infection also comes with a hidden benefit.

“If folks have already developed an antibody response as having the illness, then in the vast majority of cases, potentially even all cases, they can’t develop that illness again,” Dr. Scott Strome with UTHSC said.

Strome said that immunity will be important to test for after the first wave of the virus, when previously infected patients start resuming their daily activities.

UTHSC researchers are working to develop an Elisa test, which would check blood samples for antibodies indicating previous exposure to coronavirus.

“Ideally, you’d like to test everybody or pretty darn close,” Strome said.

That’s almost a million people in Shelby County alone. No firm timetable’s been set for development of the test, but Strome is optimistic.

“I don’t anticipate it’s going to take us particularly long to develop this test, and there’s already commercial vendors that are working on this test,” Strome said.

A member of the White House’s coronavirus task force spoke Wednesday about how Elisa tests could be used to screen healthcare workers, who are higher risk of coming into contact with coronavirus cases.

“In a day or two after development, they could screen their entire hospital. I think that would be very reassuring to the healthcare workers who have been on the front line,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy. “And once you test them once for antibodies, you really don’t need to retest them again, at least probably during the life cycle of this particular virus.”

Strome said these tests are fairly easy to develop, but right now, more testing is needed for the coronavirus itself, knowing everyone who has it and tracing where they got it from.

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