New antibody tests to detect COVID-19 variants
New antibody tests, described as ‘game-changing’, have been developed by researchers that can detect which variant an individual has immunity from. The tests can pick up on which particular COVID variant(s) someone has been exposed to, something similar antibody tests cannot do. The tests have been developed by researchers from the University of Aberdeen, in a collaboration with the biotechnology group Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd and NHS Grampian.
It is not yet clear when these tests will be utilised on a mass scale. However, professor Mirela Delibegovic of the University of Aberdeen said that “discussions are already underway to explore a possible rollout of the tests to the NHS which we hope to see happen soon." Other antibody tests which are currently available have an accuracy of around 60% to 93%, while these newly-developed tests sit at 98% accuracy and 100% specificity. The other marketed tests cannot distinguish between unique variants either.
For the first time, the new tests can be used to estimate the prevalence of circulating variant strains in the community including the variants first identified in Kent and in India, now known as the Alpha and Delta variants. In addition to this, they can also provide information that can be used to estimate the duration of the immunity provided by the vaccine as well as the effectiveness of the vaccine on emerging variants.
The team used artificial intelligence called EpitopePredikt to identify specific elements, or ‘hot spots’ of the virus that trigger the body’s immune defence. Dr Brittain-Long, Consultant in Infectious Diseases in NHS Grampian and a member of the research team adds: “This new testing platform adds crucial sensitivity and specificity to the current available serology tests and has the potential to monitor individual and population-based immunity in a way that has not been possible before."